Learning to Listen

Resolving behavior issues takes time and patience. Meeting the challenge means a happier life.

We understand behavioral issues are frustrating and upsetting. They can make you feel helpless and overwhelmed. We can help.

Why is this article about behavior consultations called “Learning to Listen”? A behavior issue often belies a physical or emotional problem troubling your pet. 

Animals are strongly conditioned to hide discomfort and symptoms of disease. Behavior problems are often how pets try to tell us they don’t feel well—that they are in pain, anxious, or afraid.

As pet parents, we can learn how to listen.

Why Is This Happening?

Behavior changes often seem sudden and unexpected—such as a cat who suddenly goes outside the litter box—when in fact something has been troubling your pet for some time.

The key is to get to the bottom of what is really going on. That all starts with ruling out—or in—any number of underlying health issues.

The Behavior Is Often the Symptom!

It is common for pets to have organ dysfunction, disease, infection, or even severe pain without showing obvious symptoms at home.

Seamus had litter box issues. The underlying problem was urinary crystals, now managed with diet.

The first step to treating a behavior problem is a full physical exam to check for any abnormalities and pain. Next we need to determine if any internal problems are present.

Blood testing reveals many crucial things about your pet’s internal health, such as infection, anemia, liver dysfunction, abnormal hormone levels, electrolyte deficiency, or kidney disease. To determine any underlying causes of urinary issues, we perform a complete urinalysis. Many litter box and incontinence problems stem from urinary or bladder infections or stones.

It is hard when your pet has an illness or health problem. We believe it is always better for pet parents to know. Knowing means you can get the best care for your pet.

When a behavioral issue is actually a physical problem, we can treat it with proper care. We can help your pet feel better, which usually resolves the behavioral problem, too.

What If It’s Not Physical?

The vast majority of “sudden” behavior problems have an underlying physical cause. If every health concern has been ruled out, the issue may be anxiety, fear, or even boredom.

A thorough behavioral history will help us determine what is going on. We ask pet parents to keep a log of exactly when and where the problematic behavior occurs. Many issues can be corrected by consistent behavioral therapy at home.

A Complex Discussion

We want your pet to feel well, both physically and emotionally.

Well-meaning pet parents may be unaware of how they actually reinforce behavior problems stemming from anxiety or fear. At-home behavior therapy may even seem to conflict with our intuition as pet parents.

We want to hug, hold, and kiss our dog when he hides during a thunderstorm, or reprimand him when he growls at a stranger. We may think it helps, yet proven behavior modification and training techniques tell us otherwise.

As pet parents, we must consider how we may be conditioning our pets to have the behavior problem. The best thing for your anxious pet could be for you to commit to changing your behavior as a pet parent.

We are committed to having the complex discussion about behavior therapy because we want your pet to live his or her best life.

Behavior therapy requires effort, consistency, and dedication. But it can work! We will talk to you about proven behavior therapies and discuss exactly what to do to help your pet.

Really? My Pet Is Bored?

Cats with toys are happier! Big Mo loves lobster.

Possibly! We see many pets whose behavior issue stems from simple boredom.

Just as they need food and water, dogs and cats need a rich home environment to fulfill their lives. Simple environmental modifications often help cats who tear up furniture or scratch walls. Read Dr. Goetz’s blog post about proper environmental enrichment for cats and kittens.

We can determine the specific environmental needs of your unique pet based on species, breed, age, activity level, and other factors. We are here to help you help your pet be his or her happiest self!

Finally: A Note on Medication

Some pets ultimately need medication to help ease anxiety, fear, and various behavioral issues.

Medication can be used temporarily or permanently. Temporary medication can work wonders for a dog who is too stressed to pay attention to training. Dogs or cats with severe anxiety may have been born with abnormal levels of certain brain chemicals, a condition that can be managed with life-long medication.

We always recommend what is best for your unique pet. We use safe medications and perform routine follow-up visits and tests to make sure the medication is working and your pet is healthy.

We understand you may be concerned about “drugging” your pet. At AHBC, we recommend medication only to help your pet feel better and more comfortable. Your pet will still be himself—medication is designed to let him be his best self.

We hope this article has offered helpful information. If you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s behavior, please call us at (919) 544-2226.