Is fluoxetine useful for treating canine OCD?

December 1, 2009
Avi Blake, DVM

Dr. Blake is a freelance technical editor and writer in Lawrence, Kansas.

Behavior problems are often difficult for veterinarians to successfully treat and can cause owners endless frustration.

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Behavior problems are often difficult for veterinarians to successfully treat and can cause owners endless frustration. Obsessive-compulsive disorders in dogs are often seen as persistent, repetitive behaviors such as tail chasing, spinning, pacing, or self-mutilation. Staring or fixating on imaginary objects, shadows, or lights can also be a manifestation of these disorders. Fluoxetine is commonly prescribed for people suffering from OCD, and a veterinary-approved formulation is available for the treatment of separation anxiety in dogs. A study recently published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association sought to determine the efficacy and safety of fluoxetine for the treatment of canine compulsive disorders.

This randomized, controlled clinical trial included patients that were diagnosed with a compulsive disorder by three independent board-certified behaviorists. The dogs were given complete medical examinations before being included in the study. Additionally, the owners were instructed not to change their interaction with the dogs and were not given any behavior modification information or training.

The results of this 42 day trial showed that fluoxetine may be efficacious in these cases. A significant number of owners in the study reported a decrease in the severity of the compulsive disorder, but the duration of the longest daily episode and the number of daily occurrences did not change. The side effects of the medication appeared to be mild and generally lasted only the first two weeks of treatment. This study did not seek to determine whether combining this treatment with environmental and behavior modification would be superior to medical treatment alone. Concurrent behavior modification is recommended when using fluoxetine for the treatment of canine separation anxiety. Additionally, in human cases of OCD treated with this class of drug, there is a reported lag time from the onset of treatment to evidence of therapeutic effects. Consequently, patients with canine compulsive disorder may require a longer treatment period before more significant improvements are noted. While the findings of this study are not definitive, they do open the door to improved treatment options for these difficult cases in the future.

Irimajiri M, Luescher AU, Douglass G, et al. Randomized, controlled clinical trial of the efficacy of fluoxetine for treatment of compulsive disorders in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2009;235(6):705-709.

Link to abstract: