Behavioral Medicine for Pets

All animals are unique and, just like us, they can have very different personalities and behaviors. In companion animals, behavior problems can have a significant impact on the ability of us as owners to bond with them, and this, in turn, can lead to a decreased commitment to their care. In fact, behavior problems are one of the most common reasons why owners decide that they can no longer tolerate their pet. As a result, the difficult animal may be sold, given away, placed in a shelter or even abandoned. Many owners don’t ever think to consult with their vet.

Fortunately, behavior problems don’t have to cause you to relinquish ownership of your pet. There are things that can be done to deal with behavior problems and help you enjoy a harmonious relationship with your pet.

Why does my pet behave in the way she does?

A pet’s behavior is generally a product of several different factors.
These include:

- Their genetic composition

- The environment within which they live

- Their experiences, for example, a pet that hasn’t been properly socialized may be fearful of new people or other animals that they come into contact with, or animals that don’t have consistency in the rules at home may become confused as to which behaviors are correct

The most important thing to remember is that there is always a reason for an animal to behave in the way that she does. By discovering this reason, it is possible for you and your veterinarian to find a way to break the bad behavior and begin to enjoy each other’s company.

Common pet behavior issues:

Although there are a wide variety of different behavior problems that can affect our pets, some are more common than others.

These include:

- Excessive vocalization, such as barking or whining

- Chewing things that they shouldn’t

- Digging

- Separation anxiety

- Urinating/defecating where they shouldn’t

- Begging

- Chasing

- Aggression

What is behavioral medicine?

Behavioral medicine refers to a field of veterinary medicine that deals with identifying undesirable behaviors and their causes, and subsequently using different therapies to resolve the issues.

In order to diagnose a behavioral problem, your vet will use a combination of observations and questionnaires completed by you and your family. This will enable them to determine the types of behavior that your pet is exhibiting. If your vet believes that there may be an underlying medical cause, further testing such as a urinalysis, blood tests and more may be recommended.

Your vet will also ask you to provide as much information about your pet’s history as possible as this may help them to identify any triggers that may have caused bad behavior. For example, a pet that has previously been left hungry may exhibit aggression at meal times. While it is not always possible to identify exactly why a pet behaves the way that they do, most vets have enough knowledge and experience to still be able to recommend an appropriate treatment.

How can bad behavior be resolved?

Fortunately, there is a range of different treatments and therapies that can be used, and which is recommended for your pet will depend on what is believed to be the cause of her behavior issues.

In many instances, bad behavior is caused by boredom. It is essential that your pet has enough physical and mental stimulation during the day and many owners find that by increasing these, the undesirable behavior lessons and then disappears of its own accord. Things like chewing, destroying property, scratching and excessive vocalization are very often signs of pet boredom. Try incorporating additional exercise during the day. If you can’t facilitate this yourself, ask a friend or family member if they can pop in and give your pet an extra walk or some additional playtime. You could also consider a pet-sitting or dog-walking service. Make sure you give your pet plenty of toys to play with too.

Other causes of bad behavior may require more focused treatment. Some of the options that you may have suggested to you could include:

- Socialization classes

- Agility classes

- Crate training

- Obedience training

- Re-visiting potty training

Your veterinarian will be happy to work with you to resolve your pet’s undesirable behavior and this may involve a process of trying different treatments until you find the one that helps you initiate a change in your pet.

If you would like more information on behavioral medicine, or if your pet is behaving badly and you would like advice and support, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our veterinary offices.