Compulsive disorders: Have you considered GI involvement?

New research stresses the need to explore a medical component to what you might think is solely a behavior problem—in this case, an underlying gastrointestinal disorder as the cause of excessive licking and fly biting.
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Apr 01, 2013


THINKSTOCK
Behavior consultations are commonly sought for dogs exhibiting bizarre repetitive behaviors. Examples of repetitive behaviors observed in dogs include flank sucking, fly biting, light chasing, spinning, tail chasing, hind end checking, self licking, and licking of surfaces.

These behaviors may be compulsive disorders, which are described as repetitive, ritualistic behaviors that are performed in excess of what is required for normal function and that interfere with normal daily activities.1 Compulsive behaviors are often initially associated with conflict or frustration and are later displayed out of context in other situations of high arousal.2 They can occupy a large percentage of a dog's daily time and adversely affect quality of life.

Treatment for compulsive disorders has mostly centered on the use of serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as clomipramine (a tricyclic antidepressant), as well as behavior modification strategies to interrupt and redirect the problem behavior to a more appropriate activity.

However, before you begin treatment, a thorough history and medical evaluation are essential. It is especially important to rule out any medical disorders that can be a primary or contributing cause of repetitive behaviors. For example, two recent studies have shown that in the case of oral repetitive behaviors, an underlying gastrointestinal (GI) problem may be present.