Pet Behavior: We've Got Your Back

Jan 29, 2021

Pet behavior is one of the most important topics in pet ownership. Unfortunately, many pet owners do not realize that their veterinarian is a valuable source of information when it comes to behavior.

Behavior problems can be damaging to the human-animal bond, as well as diminish our pets’ happiness. Sometimes behaviors are chronic, such as stress/anxiety or aggression. Other times, we may see sudden changes in a pet’s behavior that is outside the norm for him or her.

Many behavior problems are linked to a medical issue. If your pet is experiencing a behavior issue, your best resource is your veterinarian. Your pet’s doctor will perform a thorough physical examination (possibly diagnostic testing), and have a detailed discussion about the behaviors in order to fully assess the problem.

Aggression comes in many forms, including aggression/territorialism toward strangers or newcomers to the pet’s home/space, resource guarding (toys, food, even people), pet to pet aggression, fear aggression, and others. Triggers for aggression are not always easy to detect, so that’s where a thorough discussion about the pet’s behavior becomes important. A thorough physical examination and sometimes diagnostic testing is recommended to rule out medical issues (sources of pain or other causes for the pet to not feel quite themselves) that are often triggers for aggression.

Combatting any behavior issue, especially aggression, takes patience and teamwork between you, your pet, and your pet’s doctor using desensitization techniques, targeted training at home, and in some cases, medication. In cases where aggression is directed toward humans, your pet’s doctor will often recommend a collaborative consultation with a veterinary behavior specialist.

Anxiety and stress are one of the most common behavior issues that we see in pets. Many pets become stressed or anxious in certain situations (when traveling, when there has been a change in the home, when visiting the veterinarian’s office, when they hear loud noises, etc.), while other pets may have generalized anxiety. These pets tend to be anxious or ‘high-strung’ by nature, as a personality trait, similar to humans.

Medical conditions such as cognitive dysfunction/dementia, aging, vision loss, hearing loss, decreased mobility, and others can lead to or exacerbate anxiety in pets. Stress, in turn, can lead to many medical conditions in pets, so controlling stress is a very important part of keeping our pets healthy and happy. Many pets benefit from stress-relieving therapies such as supplements, pharmaceuticals, pheromone products, compression shirts, desensitization training, etc. Always let your veterinarian know if your pet shows signs of acute or generalized anxiety or stress; they are happier pets when anxiety is under control.

Training behavior issues (potty training, crate training, commands, etc.) can also stem from medical issues. Inappropriate elimination (potty accidents in the house/outside the litter box for cats) can indicate medical conditions such as urinary tract infections/disease, gastrointestinal disease, arthritis, stress, and more. Medical conditions and stress can prevent proper memory retention for training and commands.

Your veterinarian has lots of tips for successful training and appropriate corrective techniques so be sure to utilize HAH as a resource.

Dr. Tashina Elswick