In recent years, behavioural problems in dogs and cats have seemingly become more common. Anyone who has owned a pet with behavioural issues will know that they can be extremely frustrating, sometimes sad, and sometimes take a large toll on the relationship you have with your pet. As your veterinarian, we want to be the first point of contact for you to discuss any concerns you may have about your pets behaviour, and here at Busselton Veterinary Hospital, our whole team is trained in diagnosing and treating common behavioural issues, or know when to refer on to a behavioural specialist if required.

HOW DO BEHAVIOUR ISSUES OCCUR?

Behaviour in our pets is the result of a combination of genetics, environmental influences and learning (most importantly during the early socialization periods). Severe deficits in one area unfortunately cannot be completely corrected with strengths in another. Issues arise from either: behaviour problems, which is an abnormal behaviour (eg. aggression or fear of separation), OR problem behaviours, which is a normal behaviour being exhibited in an inappropriate situation (eg. excessive barking or digging). Identifying issues early and raising your concerns with someone qualified to discuss the matter is very important for addressing and treating before they get out of hand. As always, prevention is the best medicine.

WHAT IS NORMAL AND WHAT IS ABNORMAL?

This is a very important, and actually very complex question. It is probably better answered with another question- Are you concerned? Even normal behaviours can become a problem when they are inappropriate or excessive. For example, it is normal for a dog to want to dig, however most people would agree that they would prefer their backyard to remain intact. Conversely, it is not normal for a dog to be aggressive towards humans, however maybe it is a guard dog and that behaviour has been trained into the animal. When there is concern for an animals behaviour, there needs to be case by case assessment and treatment of the issue, there is no blanket fix.

IS IT BEHAVIOURAL OR MEDICAL?

The first thing we will do when we see a pet for behavioural issues is rule out medical causes. DID YOU KNOW- 30% of dogs with behavioural issues have some degree of pain involvement! Osteoarthritis, systemic organ disease, visual or auditory deficits, stress and brain aging can all cause behavioural issues in dogs and cats, and it is important to identify these and treat them appropriately. It is for this reason we will perform a thorough physical exam, run a comprehensive blood panel and start a pain trial when we see any pet for behaviour related issues.

IS IT A BEHAVIOURAL OR TRAINING PROBLEM?

One of the biggest things we hear from pet owners when their pet has a behavioural issue at home, is that they want to get in contact with a dog trainer. Dog trainers are a fantastic resource to utilise, and we have some fantastic ones here in the south-west, however it is important to recognise the difference between a behavioural issue, a training issue, or whether both need to be addressed. Behavioural issues stem from an abnormal brain function, similarly to humans who have clinical depression or anxiety. These cannot be fixed alone with training. We need to treat behavioural problems like we do any illness, and these treatments are developed and catered to each individual case.

If you have any concerns in regards to your pet’s behaviour, please don’t hesitate to contact us and book in a behavioural consultation with one of veterinarians. Together we will devise a plan to help you and your pet. In the meantime, if you would like to learn how to read your dogs body language better, head over to our videos and watch Dr Aimee explain bite prevention and doggy body signals!