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Several years ago, I spoke with a pet owner who wanted Perpetual Care to take her dog.  She said she was going to put her 14-year-old miniature poodle mix to sleep because it was having pee accidents in the house and she bit the groomer.  I asked what the assessment of the veterinarian was and she said she had not taken her to the vet and did not want to pay for the vet when she is just a “bad” and “stubborn” dog.  She also told me that the she took the dog to the veterinarian the day before to have her put to sleep and he questioned why she was putting her dog to sleep, so she had not been able to do so. 

I had her bring the dog to Perpetual Care and I evaluated the dog for behavior and did a simple head to tail assessment as a layperson, of course.  I decided to take the dog from her and into Perpetual Care, mostly because the owner also told me the dog was being physically abused by a family member.

The first step for Perpetual Care intake is always a visit to the vet and so I took Chewy ( renamed Molly) to see the Vet.  As fortune would have it, we used the same veterinarian.  Testing revealed that Molly had a UTI (urinary tract infection) which is why she was having pee accidents and of course it was easy to see that she needed dental work, not unusual for a 14-year-old dog.  It was a simple solution to put her on antibiotics which I combined with crate training as if she had never been housetrained before and 2 weeks later, she was a healthy, happy and housetrained, as well as a sweet girl.  She even learned to use the doggie door to go out whenever she needed to go.  She had her dental work done which also alleviated the biting which was due to the sensitivity to being touched around her face from the bad teeth.

This situation brought to mind how many times I have seen “behavior issues” that were in fact due to a medical problem and how important it is to let pet owners know that when their pet has behavioral issues, especially if behavior has recently changed, the first step is to check to see if there is a health issue that may be causing it.

10 examples of behavioral issues that could be caused by a medical problem

1.      Peeing inside the house (cats and dogs).  There may be many medical causes that could result in pee accidents including a UTI, diabetes, kidney failure, liver insufficiency, and dementia.

2.     Licking and chewing paws (cats and dogs). Excessive licking and chewing paws may be allergies.  Sometimes licking paws can start as a medical issue and become a habit which results in a behavior issue even when the medical issue is resolved.

3.     Nipping at people and/or rubbing paws on the face.   If your dog or cat is nipping, it may be because their teeth are hurting them and they need dental work to remove decayed teeth. Rubbing paws on their face can also be due to something related to their eyes.

4.     Pooping in the house:  If your pet suddenly starts pooping in the house, especially if it is diarrhea, it may be due to bacteria in their stomach other illnesses related to their stomach.

5.     Rubbing head or face against furniture.  If your cat or dog is rubbing their face along the furniture, it is similar to rubbing their paws along their face and may be an ear infection or dental issue.

6.     Barking.  An increase in barking or barking when your dog was not a barking dog before may be an indication that your dog is losing eyesight which can be scary for them and cause noises to be more disturbing to them.

7.     Cats or dogs not eating although seemingly hungry.  If your cat meows for food or your dog jumps early for dinner but then doesn’t eat it, they may be experiencing dental issues, particularly if you give them dry food that may be difficult for them to chew.

8.     Grumpy and getting into tiffs with other pets.  If it seems like your pet has become grumpy or touchy with other pets in the house, or perhaps avoids you instead of snuggling, it may be an indication that they are experiencing pain somewhere in their body.  It could be internal or it could be external, so look for sensitive areas by giving them a head-to-toe assessment.

9.     Ignoring you when you give them commands.  So, your cat or dog may have always ignored you and that probably just means they know you’re a pushover.  This situation is when ignoring you when you call them is a new development in their behavior.  The most likely cause is hearing loss, especially if they are a senior pet.

10.  Dish aggression (food guarding). If dish aggression over food is a new development with your pet and they may seem ravenously hungry, this could be a sign on illness such as Cushing’s disease.  If this occurs along with night roaming and pee accidents, they can all be signs of Cushing’s.

Some behavioral issues are just behavior issues that can be addressed with training, but the point is that the first step should always be to eliminate the possibility that your pet is telling you something is wrong and there is a medical issue.  Also, if you try to correct behavioral issues caused by health problems through training and other corrections, you may actually cause trauma to your pet and the side effect could be additional behavioral issues.  It is important to first verify if there is a medical cause and you may be able to get a medical problem diagnosed early enough to prevent more serious developments if diagnosed later.

What can you do to be more in tune with what your pet may be trying to tell you?  Once a week, take just 5 minutes to do a snout-to-toe assessment of your pet (cat or dog).  Start at the snout touching and feeling for bumps, sensitivity to touch, scabs, parasites, anything out of the ordinary and work your way to the tail.  You will get to know your pet’s body well enough to know when something changes and have the added benefit of bonding with your pet while you are doing it. They will love it!

Virginia Kilmer, CEO/Founder

Perpetual Care

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