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Pets & OCD: Contamination


Who could ever hurt a face this adorable? If you listen to OCD, you’ll start to think it’s possible.

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 OCD obsessions may target our lovable, snuggable friends.

This article, Part 2, will focus on contamination obsession associated with pets and animals. Part 1 covered harm and violent obsessions related to pets. Part 3 will address sexual obsessions and scrupulosity, as they pertain to pets and animals.
Most everybody loves that shower fresh feeling, right? Not only does it feel good, but it’s probably good for us too. Throughout history, cleanliness and good hygiene practices have been instrumental to reducing our vulnerability to germs, disease, and illness. For survival’s sake, to a certain extent, we’re probably biologically-programmed to prefer clean, hygienic environments, over dirty, disgusting ones.

Yet, at the same time, our human weakness for all things cute and cuddly leads many of us to choose to co-habitate with wild — or rather, domesticated — animals. This choice brings with it all sorts of opportunities for OCD to stir up contamination worries. Dogs and cats walk around barefoot outside or in litter boxes, and they tend not to wash their paws or bottoms very often (and when they do, it’s only with our assistance). Moreover, dogs have a predilection for both sniffing other dogs’ rear ends and licking themselves in inappropriate places… Naturally, this licking always tends to happen right before they decide to run up to us and lick us on the face. YUCK!

So yes, animals can be gross sometimes. But fortunately, most of OCD’s error messages about how dirty, disgusting, dangerous, and unacceptable this is, tend to be overblown.

OCD contamination obsessions about pets and animals come in a couple different varieties. Today, we’ll focus on identifying obsessions related to the fear of contaminating your pet, as well as the fear of being contaminated by your pet.

Pet Obsessions – Fear of Contaminating Your Pet

These pet obsessions involve accidentally contaminating your pet or making it sick.

  • What if I make my pet sick by accidentally feeding it food contaminated with household chemicals or cleaning products?
  • What if the air freshener I spray gets in my cat’s lungs and makes him sick?
  • What if I accidentally feed my dog tainted or spoiled food?
  • What if bugs accidentally got into my kitten’s food?
  • What if I accidentally spread germs to my dog when I was petting him and he then makes my other family members sick when they pet him?
  • What if I have an illness that I spread directly to my pet?
  • What if my friend’s dog was sick and then I accidentally bring home germs and make my puppy sick?
  • What if, when I was cleaning my cat’s bowl, I didn’t get all the soap off, and she gets sick?
  • My dog came up to me when I was sitting on the toilet, and I petted him. What if that makes him sick?
  • I think I might have dropped raw meat on the floor when cooking, and my dog immediately ate it. What if he gets salmonella or e coli?
  • When I was getting in the shower, I dropped my dirty clothes on the floor, and I think my dog licked my underwear. What if she gets sick?
  • I have the flu, and my puppy keeps climbing all over me. Can I spread the flu to my puppy?
OCD and Animals – Fear of Your Pet Making You Sick

Although they’re cute, pets can be a little bit gross sometimes. These obsessions focus primarily on getting sick as a result of interacting with your pet or another animal.

  • Can I get sick from the poop in my cat’s litter box? What if my cat’s paws track feces and pee throughout my entire house?
  • What if I have poop on my hands from picking up my dog’s poop and then it spreads to my personal items (cell phone, computer, etc.), and then makes me sick?
  • Can I get sick from petting my dog? After all, my dog isn’t entirely clean, and whenever I touch him, I might be touching poop that got stuck in his fur.
  • What if poop from my bird’s cage falls on the floor and then spreads throughout my house?
  • Can I get sick from my pet’s cage? What if I come into contact with his urine or feces when I’m cleaning his cage?
  • Can poop from my dog’s butt be transferred to my furniture and make me sick?
  • Can I get sick from allowing my dog or cat to sleep in my bed? What if poop from my dog’s feet or my cat’s litter box gets on my pillow?
  • Can dogs carry deadly illnesses or germs? What if a sick person pets my dog and then their germs get on me?
  • Can I get AIDS from a cat with feline HIV?
  • Can I get sick from touching my dog’s food? What if there are dangerous germs, bacteria, or viruses in her food?
  • Should I keep my dog or cat from walking on my carpeting? Is it possible to get sick from dog poop that gets transferred to my carpet?
  • Can I get infected with salmonella from reptiles or amphibians? Is it possible that germs from my frog, lizard, or snake could kill me?
  • Is it possible that my kitten could make my baby sick? Could my cat’s litter box kill my child? What happens if my toddler touches my puppy’s rear end by accident?
  • How long can poop germs live on furniture? What if my dog smears poop on my furniture and then I touch it and accidentally spread it to my face? Can that kill me?
  • What if my cat walks across my countertop right after using its litter box? Can that make me or my family members sick?
  • Can I get sick from letting my dog lick my face? What if my dog smelled another dog’s butt before licking me and their poop is transferred to my face? Can that kill me or make me sick?
  • What happens if my dog licks his private parts and then licks my face? It’s totally disgusting, and I’m worried that it can make me sick.
  • My dog is a poop eater. What if my dog eats poop and then licks me? Can that kill me or make me sick?
  • Whenever my dog pees, I’m afraid that some of his urine dries and gets stuck in his fur. Can that urine spread to my furniture and make me ill?

That’s quite a list of worries, isn’t it? What’s interesting is that most of these thoughts are perfectly normal. Most people will have these thoughts at some point — at least fleetingly… And most will do a pretty good job of acknowledging the thoughts and then living with the uncertainty.

Some individuals with contamination OCD, however, may have a harder time dismissing these thoughts. Consequently, they may be more likely to take defensive action in response to these thoughts, such as cleaning, disinfecting, or avoiding potentially contaminated objects (or their pets themselves). In addition, some people with OCD may take overly long showers after coming into contact with pets or other animals.

Compulsions often begin as normal and reasonable responses to contamination. However, OCD is never pacified by normal preventative action. It demands more…and more…and more… Before long, the OCD cleaning and avoiding spirals into something unmanageable, unreasonable, and counterproductive.

The “solution” to the problem quickly becomes worse than the “problem” itself.

Whether you’re fearful about making your pet sick or getting sick from your pet, exposure and response prevention (ERP) can help. My OCD treatment clinic in the West Palm Beach, Florida, area is pleased to offer treatment or consultation for OCD, including OCD related to pets and animals.

Love your pet unconditionally, and don’t let OCD put conditions on your affection.

Join me next time for Part 3 – Sexual Obsessions and Scrupulosity Involving Pets and Animals.

Questions?  Comments? Do you worry about contaminating (or being contaminated by) your pet? Do you have any pet-based contamination success stories you’d like to share? Can you think of any “what if’s” that weren’t mentioned in the lists above? Sound off in the comments below.

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  1. Thank you for posting about pet-related OCD. It is much more difficult to find information and experiences with this particular variation.

    I have been experiencing it since moving into a place with my five cats and discovering a problem with fleas. I don’t care at all about fleas on me, but I can’t stop thinking about how much they are torturing my cats. Even if I’m not observing scratching, I can’t help but look and see suffering, and it is giving me constant anxiety, panic, etc. Every scratch I see is like a punch in the gut. It feels as if they are different beings than the ones I have loved over the past two years. Disorienting and discomfiting.

  2. I am very thankful for this post. I go through these cycles over and over and beat myself up every time. I become so obsessed with making sure my dog’s ears are clean enough, making sure her anal glands are expressed enough, find new things wrong with her, etc. After I notice how much time I have spent trying to fix these things, I realize I have probably put her in some pain trying to help her and then just cry and sob because I am such a terrible person for doing these things to my precious dog.

    I am starting to understand that what I am going through is not that I secretly want to cause my dog pain but more of that I am obsessed with trying to keep her healthy and clean. I also realize that I must address the issue, and stay focused on loving and caring for her in healthy ways.

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