FRIDAY, June 14 (HealthDay News) -- Dogs may once again prove to
be man's best friend, this time in new canine research findings
that might help doctors get a better handle on obsessive-compulsive
disorder (OCD) in humans.
Brain scans suggest that dogs who suffer from a comparably
debilitating condition known as canine compulsive disorder (CCD)
show similar structural brain abnormalities as those found in
people diagnosed with OCD.
Alongside prior research that suggested OCD and CCD share the
same genetic underpinnings, the same behaviors and the same
responses to treatment, this latest study indicates that the
disorder's biological progression among man's four-legged
companions may offer valuable insight into a poorly understood
"This is an exciting finding because the current treatment options for OCD are less than satisfactory, with only about half of patients responding well, which means we need to develop new ones," said study co-author Nicholas Dodman, a veterinarian with the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton, Mass. "So, one way to do that is by lifting up the hood on anxiety disorders among dogs. And by examining the mechanics of CCD, we hope to get a more complete picture of the physiology and anatomy of OCD."
Dodman, who is also the director of Tuft's Animal Behavior
Program, and his team reported the findings online recently in the
Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological
The researchers pointed out that OCD strikes roughly 2 percent
of the population, manifesting in a wide array of ways that can
include continual hand washing or the uncontrollable hoarding of
Although the physical and mental compulsion to engage in
anxiety-relieving repetitive behaviors can be extremely detrimental
to a patient's quality of life, many endure the disorder's
relentless and intrusive stress for years before finally getting a
The International OCD Foundation estimates that, on average, OCD
patients struggle with the disorder for 14 to 17 years before
getting appropriate treatment.
Treatment typically involves selective serotonin reuptake
inhibitors (SSRIs), which include well-known antidepressants such
as Prozac, Paxil, Lexapro and Zoloft. Another option is cognitive
behavioral therapy, which utilizes "exposure-and-response
prevention" techniques, to acclimate patients to fearful
stimulation and remove related anxieties.
The problem: a big swath do not seem to benefit from either
approach; the OCD Foundation pegs that number at 30 percent of
patients. What's more, among those taking medications, symptom
reduction typically falls by only 40 percent to 60 percent, leaving
many to continue to struggle with substantial compulsive
In the canine study, Dodman's team focused on 16 Doberman
pinschers, a breed that appears to be particularly prone to
While half the dogs were healthy, the others had CCD. In dogs,
Dodman explained, this can take the form of repetitive licking of
their lower extremities; tail-chasing; irregular appetite;
inappropriate nursing behaviors; or the compulsive gathering
together of objects that mimics the kind of hoarding sometimes seen
among OCD patients.
Using MRI scans and cutting-edge software, the team was able to
map out detailed brain changes associated with CCD that were not
seen among the healthy dogs. Differences included higher total
brain and gray matter volume among the CCD dogs, as well as lower
gray matter density in particular brain regions.
In turn, by comparing these abnormalities with those already
seen in human OCD patients, Dodman said that even with the small
sample size he and his colleagues determined the brain changes were
However, Kiara Timpano, an assistant professor in the psychology
department of the University of Miami, argued that the most
effective approach to OCD treatment involves a combination of SSRI
"We can even treat OCD with cognitive therapy alone," she added. "Pharmacological treatments are an option, but they don't necessarily need to be a component of therapy," Timpano explained.
"However, certainly medications are one of our treatment tools," she noted. "And obviously the more we can understand about the underlying mechanisms of OCD -- biological, cognitive or behavioral -- the better we will be able to develop more effective treatments, including medications. So, with respect to using an animal model such as this, I think it's great."
For more on OCD, visit the
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.