When Holly, a 5-year-old female German Shepherd, Doberman, Rottweiler mix, presented to the Behavior Services at WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, she had been suffering from a non-healing wound on her left hind hock for 3 years. The wound was first seen in the summer of 2013 and was presumed to be an infected bug bite. Holly underwent surgery in October of 2013 as the wound still showed no signs of healing.
After surgery Holly was seen licking at the incision site. She developed an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) just as humans do, except in Holly’s case, she would lick herself until she bled. This is a commonly seen stress response in dogs. For Holly, the harmful licking and chewing without an underlying medical cause was due to generalized anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. It was not until Holly was seen by WSU’s Behaviorist Dr. Fanucchi, was Holly diagnosed with generalized anxiety and OCD. Holly came to her first behavior modification session very nervous, skittish, and unable to settle. Fanucchi worked closely with Holly and her owner to diagnose and treat the cause of Holly’s anxiety.
To overcome the initial fear and stress of training around her anxiety triggers, Holly was put on fluoxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI); L-theanine (Solliquin), an anxiolytic supplement; Trazodone (SARI), a sedative; and Fish oil as a skin and coat supplement. SSRI’s are commonly used in human medicine as well as veterinary medicine to address serotonin imbalances in the brain. Anxiolytics such as L-theanine help the dog to self-regulate, decreasing reactivity and improving sleep quality. SARI’s are commonly used for sedation purposes, but in this case it was used to decrease Holly’s anxiety and obsessive licking, in conjunction with SSRI Fluoxetine. Holly was also put on fish oil to improve the quality of her skin and hair coat.
Positive reinforcement was used with Holly (a treat) every time she was exposed to anxiety triggering stimuli. First, Holly started with scary noises that were played at a very low tone so they were not so scary. Every time she heard the noise she received a treat until Holly associated the noise with a yummy treat. The noise then became louder and louder slowly over weeks but the strong association with food took the scary out of the noise.
Every time a new stimulus that invoked anxiety in Holly was identified she was desensitized to it and counter conditioned until there were no more scary people, scary places, or scary animals. She was given interactive puzzle toys as an alternative outlet to chewing herself. Once the fear and anxiety were managed and controlled the need to chew herself was gone. Finally Holly’s anxiety is managed and controlled, and she has a better quality of life.