A few years ago, Dr. Dodman of the veterinary school at Tufts and Dr. Louis Schuster at the Tufts Medical School came up with a new pharmaceutical treatment for ameliorating the symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD: NMDA blockers. NMDA is an acronym for a piece of the neurochemical wiring in the brain that allows for the action of glutamate, which is the number 1 excitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system and is “part of the story of what gets people going” with OCD, says Dr. Dodman. “So we reasoned that blocking the action of glutamate would reduce compulsivity.
“We tried it in horses, and lo and behold, it worked. We tried the same drug in mice, where it also worked. An NMDA blocker worked in dogs, too. I once had a dog come in — a cavalier King Charles spaniel — who had been chasing lights and shadows and dust particles. His owners had screened their house so there would be fewer shadows. Sunlight still came through, though, and the dog would repeatedly throw itself against the couch to stir up the dust and chase the particles. The dog experienced a 90 percent improvement with Prozac. But when I added an NMDA blocker, his improvement reached 100 percent.”
After testing the drug on animals, Dr. Dodman reports, “we then went to McLean,” a psychiatric hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, “and they gave it a go. People reported amazing improvement after years of refractory OCD.”
Dr. Dodman notes that dog owners should be aware that not everything that seems like OCD is. For instance, some dogs repeatedly snap at imaginary flies, but that “seems to be a seizure-type disorder,” he says. Likewise for German shepherds who wear themselves out chasing their tails. “They respond poorly to OCD medication,” Dr. Dodman comments, “but respond reasonably well to anti-convulsant drugs. So there’s an inference that the condition is seizure-related.”