Author: Tracy Reis, DVM
When behavioral issues arise with your pet, they can sometimes be easily modified with behavior training in your home while other times medication may be needed to help with behavior modification. Any type of behavioral issue that is perceived as dangerous should be addressed by your veterinarian to rule out any medical problems. If no medical issues are found, your vet may refer you to a veterinary behaviorist.
While there are many types of behavioral issues that can occur, following are the top ten:
1) Separation Anxiety – This can take many forms from chewing to non-stop barking. Sometimes these pets will actually tear through walls or destroy furniture because of their frenzied state of being left alone. These pets are unable to self-soothe when you leave. This can happen in any breed and at any age if there is a major change in their routine. You can try leaving on the television or radio or practice leaving for shorter periods of time. You may need to consult a behaviorist if the behavior is extreme.
2) Fear of Thunder Storms and Loud Noises – While many dogs may get nervous during severe storms or loud fireworks, there are some that start getting nervous as the sky starts to turn gray. They may become so anxious that they can go through a glass window or screen door just wanting to get away from the loud noise, but it is also possible for these pets to show less severe signs such as shaking, defecation or urination in inappropriate places. This behavior may recover with some sedatives from your vet. You could also try a new therapy called a "thunder coat" that can be purchased at most pet stores which helps some dogs.
3) Compulsive or Repetitive Behaviors – There are several of these behaviors that may seem cute in the beginning, but can be a sign of stress. These include tail chasing, repetitively licking a body part or object, spinning, fly biting or shadow or light chasing. These behaviors could be a sign of an OCD-like illness or something more serious. Start with your veterinarian, but you may be referred to a behaviorist.
4) Aggression Toward Other Animals – This can range from a bark or cursory snarl to full out dog or cat fights. There can also be inter-species problems. In most cases, a trainer or behaviorist can help.
5) Aggression Toward People – This is probably the most serious of all behavior problems. It can occur with people only outside the family or with anyone in the family as well. This can create a liability, and an experienced professional should be sought immediately.
6) Hyperactive and Reactive Behavior – Some breeds just have higher energy levels, but others are so enthusiastic, it's hard to live with them. These dogs can be uncontrollable when guests arrive or never settle down. Once again, a behavior specialist may be required.
7) Anxious or Fearful Behavior – These pets seem to be afraid of everything, including their own shadow. They may cower when someone new enters the house or shake uncontrollably if taken out of their environment. Many times, these pets can do well from some exposure training.
8) Litterbox problems – Cats are naturally clean animals, and learn to use a litterbox quickly. However, when they stop using the litterbox, it can create a very unpleasant situation for the pet owner and be difficult to cure if it is behavioral. A cat that has been using the litterbox but starts urinating outside the box should always be checked first for a urinary tract infection or bladder stones by your vet.
9) Any Behavior Problem That Could Be a Medical Problem – Some problems as discussed above can be behavioral or medical. Biting from a dog that never did so in the past could be a sign of pain somewhere and excessive licking could be a skin problem. With any behavioral problem, it is always a good idea to visit your vet first.
10) Hard to Fix Problems – There are many qualified trainers who can help with many of these problems, but sometimes a veterinary behaviorist is required. Always check the credentials of any trainer before employing them to help with your pet’s problem.
There are as many different natural remedies as there are behavior problems, but some of these herbs, such as Scutellaria, Hypericum and Belladonna, will work for multiple problems.