Humans And Dogs Affected By OCD Have Similar Brain Abnormalities

It appears man’s best friend can suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and share similar brain abnormalities as their human owners, based on new research, published in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry.

OCD is a well-known psychological phenomenon in humans – demonstrated in fits of repetitive hand washing, counting compulsions, and anxiety driven rituals or tasks – but did you know that it distresses dogs as well. Research has determined that OCD affects up to 1 in 50 canines.

There is no definitive cause for canine compulsive disorder (CCD), but some suggest a possible genetic component, especially in high-strung breeds. However early life stressors have been blamed – abuse, premature weaning, excessive physical restraint, prolonged isolation, and chaotic environments – and considered primary triggers for the condition in canines.

When the animal becomes stressed such as through separation anxiety, for example, OCD-like behaviors can emerge. In canines, the condition manifests in tail and shadow chasing, spinning, excessive drinking and licking, fly snapping, persistent barking, and pica – a compulsive eating habit where they devour non-nutritive substances like rubber, plastic, clothing, and even feces.

Here we thought they were just being cute, thirsty, reacting to foreign movement and people, and liked chewing our remote control and dirty socks from the hamper.

Often times the dog will have a particular affinity for a toy or blanket that seems to calm them down. CCD does not pose a high risk to the animal’s overall health, however tail chasing or obsessive grooming can result in some physical injury and psychogenic alopecia.

For the research, structural brain abnormalities were observed in Doberman pinschers afflicted with OCD. Dobermans (also spelled Dobermann) are one of the most common breed of domestic dog developed in the late 1800s by Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann. They are known for being highly intelligent, alert, and loyal, and typically employed as guard animals. Dobermans have been stereotypes as vicious and aggressive dogs, but are generally considered even-tempered and obedient.

A collaboration effort between veterinarians at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and researchers at the McLean Imaging Center at McLean Hospital, in Belmont, Massachusetts was used in order to study anxiety disorders in dogs in hopes of uncovering new therapies intended to treat humans.

The causes of OCD, which affects about two percent of the human population, are not well understood and the disorder often goes untreated or undiagnosed for decades. People with OCD often exhibit repetitive behaviors or persistent thoughts that are time consuming and interfere with daily routines. Dogs with CCD also engage in repetitious and destructive behaviors.

The research team, led by Niwako Ogata, BVSc, PhD – an assistant professor of animal behavior at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine – examined the MRIs in a sample of 16 Dobermans, half of whom represented the control group.

Ogata found that the CCD group had higher total brain and gray matter volumes, lower gray matter densities in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and right anterior insula, and higher fractional anisotropy in the splenium of the corpus callosum – interrelated with the severity of compulsive behavioral traits and consistent with humans suffering OCD-like symptoms.

The findings supplement existing etiology of compulsive disorders in animals, and may pave the way for beneficial treatments in humans.

[Image via Wikicommons]