Virtually any medical condition can present with behavioral symptoms. Changes in behavior are often the first sign a pet will exhibit when she is ill. Signs such as irritability, decreased appetite, anxiety, aggression, lethargy, and house-soiling could all be attributed to medical conditions. Despite what it may seem, our pets do not have the mental capacity to plot revenge.
We tend to anthropomorphize our pets, treating them like small children and believing they have the same moral code as we do, but that is not the case. Animals usually perform certain actions based on the outcome. Perhaps your dog will pee on your new comforter, not because she is upset you left for the day, but either because she wants to mark the new territory or she’s struggling with a urinary tract infection. When you come home and discover the mess, you’ll raise your voice and make gestures with your hands, which will cause your dog to grovel and cower. She isn’t doing this because she regrets her actions. Instead, she’s trying to appease the loud, scary human.
Learning the causes behind certain behaviors can help you to better understand your pet’s needs and clue you in on potential underlying medical issues.
Cats: Peeing outside the litter box
Peeing outside the litter box is the number one reason cats are surrendered to animal shelters. Elimination issues can be frustrating to treat, since getting to the root of the cause can take some time. There are many reasons cats choose not to use the litter box, including:
- Bladder problems can cause pain and a burning sensation when urinating. A cat can associate that pain with the litter box, causing her to avoid using the box.
- Arthritis can make it difficult to posture or climb inside a box.
- Diarrhea issues caused by parasites, stress, food change/intolerance, metabolic diseases, and irritable bowel disease can cause a cat to be unable to make it to a box.
- A box that isn’t cleaned frequently enough can make a cat avoid using it. Cats are clean and tidy, and want the area where they do their business to be clean and tidy, too.
- Bullying from other cats, or resource guarding, can cause shy, nervous cats to avoid the litter box.
- The litter box is not in an ideal location, or there aren’t enough boxes for the number of cats in the home. While putting the litter box in the laundry room may seem like a good idea, cats don’t always appreciate going to the bathroom next to a scary, rattling dryer. Also, be sure there is at least one litter box for every cat in the home. Many cats prefer not to share their bathroom.
- The box is too small, the sides are too high, or the cat doesn’t like an enclosed box. A litter box should be at least 1.5 times the length of your cat to reduce the chance of any elimination issues. Open boxes are often preferred, and short sides are best for chubby or elderly kitties, who may have problems climbing in or out.
- The litter isn’t preferred by the cat. Unscented, fine-particle, clumping clay litter is the top choice for most cats.
Before thinking that your cat is peeing on the new jacket your child left on the floor out of spite, consider that an underlying medical issue could be causing the behavior. (And then train the kids to pick up after themselves.)
Dogs: Behavioral changes
Cognitive dysfunction or decline is a common problem in dogs as they age. Cognitive dysfunction can lead to many behavioral changes, including:
- Increased aggression
- Avoiding touch, growling/snapping when touched
- Decreased appetite
- House soiling
- Increased vocalization
- Increased sensitivity and irritability toward people or other pets
- Increased or sudden onset of anxiety
There are many other medical conditions that can affect dogs of all ages and cause changes in their behavior. Arthritis, dental disease, cancer, urinary tract disease, and others can cause pain, leading to behavioral changes. If your dog is struggling with impaired vision or hearing, you may think she is ignoring you when you call her. Hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, and others can lead to changes in behavior as well.
Has your pet’s behavior changed? Call our office at 512-696-3980 to schedule an exam.