Obsessions focusing on pets and animals incorporate all the common themes: contamination, checking, harm, scrupulosity, and sex.
In this 3-part blog series, I discuss some of the common ways obsessions may target our lovable, snuggable friends.
This article, Part 1, will focus on harm obsessions; Part 2 will cover contamination obsessions; and Part 3 will address sexual obsessions and scrupulosity, as they pertain to pets and animals.
Pets. You gotta love ‘em. They’re so cute. They’re so cuddly. They always get excited when they see you.
So why does OCD hate them so much anyway?
Probably because we love them.
Just as OCD tends to torment parents who love their children, OCD also loves to torment pet owners who love their pets.
Get ready to brace yourself for all sorts of violent and horrific thoughts about pets and animals.
It doesn’t matter what type of pet you have. Dogs, cats, birds, ferrets, bunnies, snakes, flying squirrels, chinchillas, mice, rats, guinea pigs, gerbils, potbellied pigs, fish, horses, cows, chickens, frogs, turtles, lizards, YOU NAME IT! The list goes on and on. Obsessions about pets and other animals can occur across all species.
Let’s begin by identifying some examples of pet- and animal-focused OCD harm obsessions:
OCD and Pets – Fear of Accidental Harm
These OCD violent obsessions often focus on preventing possible harm to pets or other animals. Worries include the fear of causing harm through negligence or irresponsibility. Here are some examples…
- Fear of not locking a fence/gate properly and having your dog escape and be injured or killed.
- Fear of leaving on an appliance (e.g., a stove, curling iron), starting a fire, and burning down your house…thereby killing your pet.
- Fear of forgetting your cat or dog’s medication and causing some type of resultant harm.
- Fear of accidentally hitting your dog with your car.
- Fear of accidentally trapping your puppy or kitten in the oven.
- Fear of unintentionally putting your mouse in the microwave.
- Fear of inadvertently trapping your dog or cat in the dishwasher.
- Fear of your cat or dog getting stuck in the washing machine or dryer.
- Fear of trapping your dog in a hot car or other vehicle.
- Fear of not closing the front door properly and having your cat or dog escape and be hurt or killed.
- Fear that you may accidentally harm your rabbit/puppy/kitten while holding it (i.e., break its neck).
- Fear that a wild animal nearby may be in danger and feeling the need to seek it out and protect it (in the absence of any information that this is actually occurring). For example, you may “sense” that a deer nearby is about to be hit by a car and then feel compelled to seek it out and protect it.
- Fear that your dog’s leash may break during a walk and your pet might be killed.
- Fear that you may not be able to protect your pet in a dangerous situation (e.g., when approached by another animal).
- Fear that you may drop and injure your guinea pig while holding them.
- Fear of accidentally choking your dog with its leash.
- Fear that you may roll over and crush your puppy or kitten in your sleep.
Pets and OCD – Fear of Intentional Harm
These OCD animal obsessions often focus on intrusive thoughts that you are a bad person or the fear that you might secretly want to harm your pet. Similar to obsessions in other forms of Pure-O OCD, these violent obsessions often evoke a preponderance of Pure-O OCD mental rituals.
- Fear of being a serial killer or sociopath and taking action to harm, murder, or kill your pet.
- Fear of becoming possessed and killing your pet.
- Getting mad and then fearing that you secretly want to harm your pet.
- Intrusive urges/impulses to murder or maim your pet while holding him/her (e.g., the impulse to break its neck, strangle it).
- Intrusive images/movies in your head of harming your pet.
OCD and Animals – Fear of Losing Control and Harming Your Pet
These violent obsessions are similar to those above but focus on a loss of control. They often involve “what if” thoughts about the possibility of harming your pet while in an altered mental state.
- Fear of sleepwalking and causing harm to your pet in your sleep.
- Fear of losing consciousness and harming your pet.
- Fear of harming your pet while intoxicated (e.g., while drinking, using drugs, etc.).
- Fear of blacking out and harming your pet due to the effects of a new medication you’re taking.
- Fear of “going crazy” and harming your dog or cat.
- Fear of becoming possessed and harming your pet.
Pets, Animals, and OCD – Magical Thinking and Fear of Harm
These OCD-based animal obsessions involve magical thinking, which is when you perceive connections between two events that are not logically related. For example, you may perceive that if you don’t do a certain ritual, something bad may happen. For many pet-related violent obsessions, you may fear that resisting certain compulsions could result in your pet’s injury or death.
- Fear that if you don’t perform a certain ritual, your dog or cat will get sick or die.
- Fear that if you complete a certain behavior while having a bad thought, the Pure-O OCD bad thought will come true. For example, if you have a thought about your dog getting hit by a car while walking through a doorway, you may feel the need to reenter the doorway while having a “safe” or neutral thought.
- Fear that if you don’t tap a certain number of times, something bad will happen to your cat.
- Intrusive, violent images/movies in your head of your pet being harmed that you feel you must neutralize through a compulsion.
As you can see, we have the potential to worry a lot about our pets, our trusted animal companions. Just as with other family members, we’re invested in their survival and well-being, which is exactly why OCD tends to target them.
Whether you’re experiencing the fear that you might accidentally be responsible for causing harm to your pet, or you’re fearful that you might secretly want to harm your pet, it’s important to learn to use exposure and response prevention (ERP) as a tool to stand up to your OCD.
In vivo and imaginal exposure for OCD can be transformative for reducing your symptoms.
OCD wants you to take animal obsessions seriously. OCD wants to you to ritualize by analyzing your violent thoughts, checking your thoughts and intentions, and verifying that every door and gate is locked and secure.
At first, it can be difficult to ignore and resist these rituals. After all, compulsions tend to be framed in the most helpful of terms. Who wouldn’t take a few seconds — a few minutes — a few hours to make sure that everything’s okay? Only a bad person would ignore those thoughts, right?
Overcoming OCD involves learning to notice your thoughts, your feelings, your inclinations to act…and then deliberately choosing a non-response, rather than choosing an action based on OCD guilt or fear. It involves staring your fear in the eye.
Sometimes this is uncomfortable. You may feel negligent, irresponsible, careless, or evil.
But that’s just the tactic that OCD uses to manipulate you in order to keep itself strong.
In reality, doing rituals and following OCD’s directives is short-sighted. Although compulsions may feel good initially, rituals and avoidance provide only short-lived relief and ultimately perpetuate OCD’s game plan.
If you’re not doing rituals, what should you do instead?
Hug your pet, hold your pet, and walk away from the gate without looking back.
Join me next time for Part 2 – Contamination Obsessions Involving Pets and Animals.
Questions? Do you experience OCD about pets or other animals? Harm-based worries getting you down? Sounds off below.