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Pets and compulsive disorders

Q: I was recently diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. I live with two normal cats, but I've been wondering whether cats can have OCD, too.

A: Yes, though veterinarians who specialize in behavior refer to the abnormal repetitive behaviors as "compulsive disorder," or CD, since the word "obsessive" refers to thought patterns we can't objectively evaluate in cats.

Feline compulsive disorder manifests most often as either excessive grooming to the point of baldness or sucking on, chewing or ingesting fabric or other nonfood items. Additional CD behaviors include pacing, tail chasing, sucking the tail tip and chewing the claws.

The abnormal behaviors usually begin around age 2, although they may start earlier in breeds genetically predisposed to CD. The condition is often preceded by a major environmental change or other stressful event, such as moving to a new home, the death of a favorite animal companion or separation from an important human family member.

Key to making the diagnosis is to rule out other conditions. For example, excessive grooming may be caused by pain or itchiness instead of CD.

The goal of treatment is to improve the cat's quality of life. Yelling, swatting and other forms of punishment make CD worse by increasing the cat's anxiety. A board-certified veterinary behaviorist can recommend effective behavior modification, environmental enrichment, pheromones and medication.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at

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