PETS COLUMN: Physical causes of dog behaviour issues, part one

Longmead Veterinary Practice

BEHAVIOURAL problems can have many causes and it is important to be aware of the physical causes of behavioural issues which should be excluded, or treated, before behavioural modification can begin. This is the first of two articles discussing possible causes.

Pain is a very common cause of changes in behaviour. Older dogs who previously interacted well with other dogs or children can become aggressive or less sociable because of pain due, for instance, to arthritis.

If a dog has pain and wants to avoid playing because it hurts, they may avoid interaction.

It can be difficult sometimes to know whether a dog is in pain, particularly if they are a sociable breed such as a Labrador or a stoic breed such as a Springer, and pain relief trials can be useful to assess for any positive change.

Arthritic pain is a common cause of behavioural changes but also pain due to infections such as ear infections or anal gland infections can cause dogs to be more irritable and less sociable. Overgrooming or excessive licking can also be due to pain. Dogs that lick over a joint often have arthritic pain. Cats can develop cystitis due to a stress response but the pain it causes can make them urinate frequently which may be in inappropriate areas in the house.

Dogs which start defecating indoors may have arthritic pain which makes ‘posturing’ to defeacate painful. They will, therefore, hold on longer and may then have to go urgently, which may be indoors. This can often be identified by older dogs walking along while defeacating because it is too painful to stand still and posture normally. Nerve deficits associated with arthritis and similar conditions may also make the dog unaware of the need to defeacate and faeces can ‘fall out’.

READ MORE: When behaviour is due to a physical cause, part two

Dogs which start defecating indoors having previously been house trained may have had an episode of colitis making them need to go urgently. It is important to resolve this condition before attempting to retrain the behaviour because the urgency involved is outside of the dog’s control. Once house training has been ‘broken’ the dog may continue to defecate in-doors and re-establishing house training is required.

Urinating indoors can have many physical causes. Entire male dogs may start to scent mark, particularly following the visit of another dog. Neutered females can develop urinary incontinence which may lead to leakage of urine in their bed overnight. Conditions which cause excessive urine production such as diabetes mellitus or kidney disease may also lead to urine leakage due to an overfull bladder. These conditions may also lead to active urination indoors if they need to go more frequently and cannot get outdoors.

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I am the editor in chief of Blackmore Vale media, which includes the New Blackmore Vale, New Stour & Avon, Salisbury & Avon Gazette and the Purbeck Gazette, having been a reporter for some 20 years. In my spare time, I am a festival lover, with a particular focus on Glastonbury. I live in Somerset with my wife and two children.