Obsessions focusing on pets and animals incorporate all the common themes: contamination, checking, harm, scrupulosity, and sex.
In this 3-part blog series, I’ll discuss some of the common ways obsessions may target our lovable, snuggable friends.
Part 1 focused on harm obsessions, including the fear of accidental and intentional harm, and Part 2 covered contamination obsessions. This final part, Part 3, will address sexual obsessions and scrupulosity, as they pertain to pets.
Our animals are members of our family. We treat them as our own. It’s not surprising, then, that OCD extends unwanted thoughts to our furry, fluffy companions. OCD loves to attach taboo thoughts to things we love, and our pets are no exception. Just as many parents struggle with obsessions that target their children (e.g., What if I secretly want to harm my child?; What if I secretly am sexually attracted to my child?), so too, do pet owners have obsessions that may involve taboo thoughts about their pets.
Some of the most distressing and confusing pet obsessions focus on sexual themes, such as the fear of being sexually attracted to your pet. These obsessions may come out of the blue or may be triggered when one notices physical sensations of “sexual arousal” occurring in the presence of a pet.
A gentleman once told me, “Everything was fine until I enrolled my dog in that puppy class. During our final exam, my dog excelled. He had mastered all the skills we were practicing, and he was literally at the top of his class. That’s when it all started. My dog had finished the final exam, and was clearly victorious — when I noticed a terrifying sensation in my groin. It was all downhill from there… My OCD exploded.”
For other people, intrusive sexual thoughts about pets or animals may be triggered initially by an accidental genital grazing when you’re holding your pet, noticing your pet’s genitals, or cuddling with your puppy at night and feeling relaxed… These situations seem innocuous until doubt and uncertainty strike. Then everything changes…
What if I’m a sexual deviant? What if I’m into bestiality? What if I’m a monster? What if I could actually do that? What if I have a fetish?
The list is endless.
For still other people, there’s no obvious trigger. The thoughts just start coming over and over and over again. These thoughts may be what-if thoughts like those above, or they may consist of graphic mental images or impulses to act inappropriately.
Obsessions about Animals – Sexual Obsessions About Pets
Like it or not, OCD sexual obsessions can attach to our beloved pets. People with sexual obsessions about pets or animals fear the possibility of attraction or the possibility of acting in a sexually inappropriate manner toward their pet.
- What if I touched my pet inappropriately? How do I know for sure I didn’t do that on purpose? Maybe I wanted to… Why did I hold it like that? Surely, I would’ve known that that would cause my hand to graze his penis. How can I know for sure that I’m not a sick person who intentionally touched his genitals?
- Why am I looking at her genitals? Why did I even notice that? Who thinks about that? What kind of person would even be aware of their pet’s private parts? Only a sick person would look.
- Oh my gosh, I think I’m aroused by my pet. When I look at their private parts, I felt aroused — I really think I was aroused. I can’t stop looking. I noticed all the normal arousal sensations…yet they were linked to looking at my pet. What kind of disgusting person gets aroused by their pet or other animals?
- I was just petting my dog, and everything was fine at first. But then I noticed that I was getting sexual arousal sensations (e.g., groinal sensations, an erection, vaginal sensations). I can’t believe this is happening. This is proof that I’m sexually attracted to my pet!
- Oh my gosh, it’s getting worse now. I’m having movies and pictures in my head of performing sexual acts on my dog. I can actually see myself doing these disgusting things.
- I know for sure I’m a pervert now. I’m sitting here, petting my dog, and I feel like I’m about to lose control and touch my pet inappropriately. I’m literally fighting the urge to do something terrible and disgusting. I think I’m about to do it!
Similar to sexual obsessions, OCD scrupulosity involves the fear that you’re doing something morally wrong in relation to your pets. These obsessions involve the fear of causing harm to your pets, or causing them to experience unnecessary pain or suffering. People with scrupulosity about caring for their pets may find it difficult to leave their pets for even brief periods of time, for fear that their pet would miss them or suffer from the absence.
Obsessions about Pets – Scrupulosity about Harming or Mistreating Pets
These animal-focused obsessions may often involve the fear that you have committed a morally- or religiously-dubious act. These thoughts then make you question who you are as a person.
- I’m a terrible person. I got frustrated with my dog, and I actually lost my temper and screamed at him. What kind of horrible person would do that to an innocent animal? I must surely be a monster!
- Oh my goodness, I just did the most terrible thing. I lost my patience and jerked my dog’s leash, and I’m terrified that I hurt her. It’s possible that I messed up her neck or spinal cord, and that she’ll never be the same.
- I am the worst person ever. My dog was taking forever to go to the bathroom, and I totally lost it. I yelled at him and jerked his leash, and he was so traumatized that he put his tail between his legs. I think I emotionally scarred him forever. He’s never going to get over how awfully I treated him.
- My pet is so sensitive to separation anxiety that I can’t bear to leave him. Every time I run an errand, I can hear him barking and scratching at the door and freaking out. He is totally losing it and it’s all my fault. He probably thinks that I’m abandoning him and that I’m never coming back. Yes, I have to work to pay the rent, but I’m also terrified that he must hate me for it. He must be so lonely and depressed when I’m gone. Did you see the movie, “The Secret Life of Pets?” That proves that leaving him during the day is inhumane. I’m a horrible for even considering leaving him.
- Excessive fear (and avoidance) of “normal” behaviors that may stress out your pet.
And last but not least — for those of you who can’t relate to any of the above…
Scrupulosity about not having pet obsessions.
Example: I must not love my pet enough if I’m not having obsessions about it.
(That was a joke. Kind of. I know that there are some of you out there who are freaking out about not having moral obsessions about your pet.)
The good news is that even if you have OCD about pets, all the normal rules of OCD treatment still apply. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) remains the treatment of choice.
Just as I’ve mentioned in my Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Tips series, optimal exposures will meet the following criteria:
- What can I do (on purpose) that will bring on my fear?
- What can I do that will give my fear the opportunity to come true?
Effective treatment for OCD involving pets or animals will typically include a combination of in vivo exposures and imaginal exposures for OCD.
Enough talking. Time to get to work.
Let’s show our pets we love them by incorporating them in our exposures.
Questions? Comments? Do you sexual or scrupulous obsessions about your pet? Sound off in the comments below.