The timing couldn't be more perfect for an article in the New York Times on the genetics of compulsive behaviors in poochies.
In Scientists Find a Shared Gene in Dogs with Compulsive Behavior, Mark Derr talks about the work of Dr. Nicholas Dodman on doberman's who compulsively suck their flanks (hmm, what exactly does that mean?) and a genetic link:
Dr. Dodman and his collaborators searched for a genetic source for this behavior by scanning and comparing the genomes of 94 Doberman pinschers that sucked their flanks, sucked on blankets or engaged in both behaviors with those of 73 Dobermans that did neither. They also studied the pedigrees of all the dogs for complex patterns of inheritance. The researchers identified a spot on canine chromosome 7 that contains the gene CDH2 (Cadherin 2), which showed variation in the genetic code when the sucking and nonsucking dogs were compared.
Should ClinkShrink be worried? Might she adopt a dog with a psychiatric disorder? Should her would be pup have genetic testing? Derr goes on to write:
Recent rough estimates by Dr. Karen L. Overall, a veterinarian specializing in animal behavior at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, suggest that up to 8 percent of dogs in America — five million to six million animals — exhibit compulsive behaviors, like fence-running, pacing, spinning, tail-chasing, snapping at imaginary flies, licking, chewing, barking and staring. Males with the problem outnumber females three to one in dogs, she found, whereas in cats the ratio is reversed.
Ah, but it's not just the poochies with this problem: other critters have compulsive behaviors, and treatment is available. Mr. Derr tells us:
Other domestic animals, notably cats and horses, as well as some of the animals at zoos, exhibit compulsive behaviors, including wool-sucking in Siamese cats, and locomotion disorders like stall walking and weaving in confined horses and pacing in captive polar bears, tigers and other carnivores used to ranging across large territories.
Although antidepressants, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and clomipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant, and behavior modification have proved effective at controlling compulsive behavior in dogs and people, they do not appear to correct underlying pathologies or causes, Dr. Ginns said. Those causes are likely to be as varied as the compulsive behaviors and as complex as the interplay of multiple genes and the environment.