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Neurotic pets ‘a danger’

COMPULSIVE BEHAVIOUR disorders, similar to obsessive hand washing in humans, have spread to dogs, cats, caged birds and several other animals veterinary experts said last week.

Speaking at the British Small Animal Veterinary Association's annual congress in Birmingham, the vets said dogs suffering obsessive behavioural problems might attack if their neuroses were not treated.

Dr Petra Mertens of the University of Minnesota said that animals licking their coats off through excessive grooming were displaying similar compulsive disorder symptoms to stressed humans.

She said Dobermanns were known to suck their flanks compulsively, while German Shepherds and Bull Terriers were most likely to spin in circles or chase their tails for hours on end.

Siamese cats and other oriental feline breeds displayed behavioural problems by chewing their fur. Other breeds made their complaint more obvious: they urinated compulsively around the home. Tropical birds were seen tearing their feathers out, while zoo bears swung their heads.

Dr Mertens said that punishing a pet for displaying behavioural problems would heighten anxiety and make the problem worse. "What we know in humans as obsessive compulsive disorder, we see similarities in animals," Dr Mertens said.

"They don't eat, they waste away. It is not that the owners are necessarily doing anything wrong. It is really a genetic predisposition that causes the pets to go wrong. The problems occur when owners are not aware of these symptoms and either ignore them or don't seek help."

Dogs can be treated with drugs and therapy. Training with reward-based techniques, socialising and trying to ensure that the pet has as much routine as possible can all help.