Separation anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder are two separate and distinct canine psychological disorders. They are both anxiety disorders that share some common root causes and have similar approaches to treatment.
Dogs with separation anxiety tend to panic when left alone or when separated from their favorite people. Although a certain amount of sadness and upset behavior on the part of your dog when you leave is normal, a dog with separation anxiety is usually inconsolable and will act out with inappropriate behavior. This might simply include nonstop barking, whining, cowering and hiding, but it might also include destructive behavior such as chewing or scratching furniture or urinating and defecating inside the house. Some dogs even mutilate themselves with their chewing and scratching.
A dog with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or “OCD,” tends to repeat certain activities to the extent that it interferes with his ability to function like a normal dog. Common OCD behaviors include incessant spinning or tail chasing, biting at imaginary flies, pacing and self-mutilation. Another behavior linked with OCD is pica, which is a tendency to eat nonfood items such as rocks, dirt or feces. With OCD, the dog’s strange behavior becomes worse over time, increasing either in duration or frequency, and not even restraining your dog can get him to stop.
Although the exact cause of either disorder is unknown, both disorders are more likely to occur in dogs with a history of trauma, abuse or neglect. However, they also can occur in dogs without such a history. Both disorders are thought to have a hereditary component, although they can occur in dogs of any breed. While no particular breeds are predisposed to OCD, breed might play a part in how the disorder manifests itself.
Treatment for both OCD and separation anxiety primarily involves behavior modification and desensitization. With separation anxiety, the goal is to help the dog learn to stay calm when the owner leaves. The goal for OCD treatment is to reduce or eliminate the obsessive behavior, as well as eliminate any underlying causes or triggers for such behavior. Prescription anti-anxiety medications can help with both disorders, and might be an integral part of OCD treatment. With separation anxiety, however, prescription medication usually is saved as a last resort once all other options have been exhausted.