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Like humans, dogs can have mental health problems

By HELEN PALMER

K9 Corner

Over the years I have occasionally reminded you that dogs can get a variety of human ailments. I was surprised when the veterinarian diagnosed my first dog’s cough as tonsillitis. At that time, I didn’t know dogs had tonsils. Since then, I have discovered that canines can also come down with heart disease, liver, pancreas, kidney, adrenal and even pituitary problems. Then, of course, there is glaucoma and dry eye, arthritis and the big “C” — cancer, as well as a host of others.

But how much do we know about mental disease in dogs? Dogs that have seizures may have a brain disease such as tumors or have part of the brain malfunctioning because of lack of oxygen at birth, but the real mental diseases often trigger such behavior as leaping into the air and snapping at non-existent bees or flies or circling wildly for long periods trying to catch its tail.

A number of these behaviors fall under the psychiatric term “obsessive compulsive behavior.” Some of these behaviors such as pacing endlessly are triggered by long periods of isolation. Dogs are pack animals and don’t understand why the rest of the “pack” (the human family) abandons them every morning. Dogs can start licking holes in their skin from sheer boredom or loneliness, or they can attack the house, starting either with the furniture or, as in one case, the house itself.

One of my friends took me into the “dog room” here she showed me how her newly acquired dog had stripped the door frame from the wall and the sills and frames from the windows in an effort to get out and find its “lost” family.

Excessive barking and howling can start as a lament for the isolation and progress into obsessive compulsive behavior which is more difficult to change.

If your dog is starting a behavior that you are concerned about such as excessive licking, try giving him some exercise before you leave the house. I used to give one of my dogs a four mile run each morning and evening and she was content to stay in a kennel during the day.

Another possibility is to leave a hollow rubber toy filled with cheese or peanut butter for the dog to lick instead of licking his paws or flank. There are hollow balls and cubes made to fill with dry dog food kernels. The dog has to roll the toy around before the food spills out one kernel at a time. If you use the food method for diversion, remember to calculate the calories the dog gets from the toy and subtract that amount from the regular meal. Otherwise your dog may gain weight.

Finally, if these simple additions do not help curb your dog’s obsessive behavior you may need to take him to the veterinarian. Don’t be surprised to find the doctor prescribing a human medication such as an anti-depression drug or a human grade anticonvulsant.