If you are sick or don’t feel well does your behavior change? I know that mine does! I can be slower, grouchy, spacey or short tempered. If our behavior changes when we are not well, why would it surprise us when our animal’s behavior changes when they are not well.
Often we notice behavior changes before we even know our animals are sick. Unfortunately, people will often focus on the behavior changes and don’t consider that there could be an underlying cause. Sometimes animals are punished for a behavior that is actually a symptom of a health problem.
Anytime I meet an animal that has a sudden behavior change, I automatically keep in my mind that it could be medical. Animals can have behavior changes anytime something hurts or if an organ is not functioning properly.
Cats and dogs will often begin urinating in inappropriate places if they have a bladder or kidney problem or if they are diabetic. If I have a client that contacts me for inappropriate urination I always ask a few questions before we look at the behavior itself. First, I ask if the animal was house trained completely before the accidents happened. If the animal was house broken, then I will request that the animal sees a veterinarian before we try to fix the behavior problem. The most common reasons for inappropriate urination when an animal was completely housetrained are bladder infections, kidney infections and diabetes. In some cases, an older animal could be experiencing cognitive disfunction (or dementia).
Sometimes a client will contact me because their dog refuses to go on walks (when they had loved going in the past). I first ask about any potential injuries or pain the dog may be experiencing. If no pain can be identified, we begin to investigate if the dog experienced a fearful event while on a walk.
Even horses will show behavior changes when they are not feeling well. One client contacted me because her horse was biting her and was refusing to leave the stall. These behaviors were intermittent and we were having trouble finding any “trigger” to why the behaviors would happen since they did not occur every day. Suddenly the horse seemed quite ill. The horse was so sick he needed to be hospitalized. While hospitalized, the veterinarian discovered that the horse had serious stomach ulcers. Once the ulcers were treated, the behaviors diminished.
As humans, we often focus on the most obvious problems when we should be looking more closely at the cause of the problem. Next time your animal shows signs of new unwanted behaviors, be sure to consider if the true problem could be medical.