Dear Dr. Thompson: My 13-year-old Boston terrier has a licking problem. He is not licking himself, but rather everything else! Carpet, recliners, blankets, couch - you name it, he constantly licks it. You have to physically stop him from licking. This has been going on for a couple of years now. He has been checked over and there are no physiological problems that have been found.
It is becoming very annoying, not to mention wet. My vet suspects an obsessive-compulsive disorder, which I agree with, but I am reluctant to put him on any medication.
ANSWER: We only assume certain behaviors in dogs can be labeled as truly obsessive-compulsive. What you describe as a repetitive behavior with no rhyme or reason may certainly be classified as such. Other behaviors like tail-chasing, chewing, or pawing can also be OCD-type disorders. As in people, it is thought that a certain behavior gets "stuck" in the mental pathways of the brain, like a case of mental hiccups. Many dogs demonstrate this behavior as a coping mechanism for stress or a lack of environmental stimulation.
Unfortunately, our reaction to the behavior can compound the problem. Human nature leads us to try to correct the action with negative reinforcement. We tell the dog to stop rather than attempt to redirect it to a more positive outcome or behavior. This can heighten the anxiety that may be precipitating the action. Terriers by nature have a strong prey drive that should be given a healthy outlet. Fetch, agility, and other goal-oriented play can help burn off some of the inherent drive that may be taking an unhealthy form.
When your dog is caught in this cycle, finding a positive behavior to help break the recurrent negative action can over time replace this activity with one that is less annoying and destructive. However, it is important to remember that this is behavior that is analogous to the needle being stuck on the record. It will take time to find a healthy outlet and form new behaviors.
Dear Dr. Thompson: I have a 7-year-old Lab that has been battling a weight problem for years. We have tried diet foods, cutting back on her food, eliminating treats, and long walks. You name it, we have tried it. We know it is hard on her to be so overweight, but we have done everything we can. Is there something else we should be considering?
ANSWER: Obesity in pets is a huge problem, pardon the pun. Dogs and cats are sharing our increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Often, in our desire to show our love, we add to their troubles by giving table food, treats, chews, and the like. This is not to say treats are inherently bad, but any good thing needs moderation.
Another less-discussed aspect is the dogs we are drawn to. Sporting breeds like Labrador and golden retrievers are the most popular, but they were bred to be very active and have high energy requirements. However, we assume that going out in the backyard a couple times a day will suffice for daily exercise.
However, one medical condition you should eliminate is an underactive thyroid. This breed is one of the more commonly afflicted, and a simple blood test by your veterinarian could detect this disease. If that comes back negative, the old standby of gradual calorie restriction and increasing activity levels should begin to help. One pound a month is a good rate for a dog this size. If those all fail, ask your veterinarian about some new medical options that could help get the ball rolling and get some pounds off.
Questions for Dr. Thompson can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 North Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.