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Behavior Problems Related to Disease?
M Duffy Jones, DVM posted:
In my practice, I deal with many pets that have behavioral problems, such as aggression and obsessive compulsive disorder. I've seen these behaviors get much worse when pets are agitated from skin disease and irritation, allergies, or other medical conditions.

One of my patients, Tiger, is a cat who is grumpy even on a good day. You can pet him, but it has to be quick. If you linger too long, you will get bitten. On top of his gloomy disposition, he also has seasonal allergies. So when his allergies flare up, he will attack even his owner. She walked into the same room with Tiger during one of his flares, and he actually ran over and bit her! After treating his allergies multiple times, we noticed that he calms down once they're under control. Since the owner is scared of him when his allergies are bad, I am very proactive about treating his allergies with antihistamines so that his behavior and demeanor remain more controlled.

I have canine patients who display symptoms of obsessive compulsive behavior, such as repetitive barking, excessive grooming, and circling. These behaviors, too, will often get much worse at times when pets are uncomfortable. Dogs may start barking incessantly. And their owners can't get them to stop until we deal with any additional issues. So when a pet in this situation is brought to me for a behavioral consult, in reality, she may need to be treated for an unforeseen medical condition first.

I have a few patients whose allergies trigger their excessive grooming behaviors. The grooming and licking can get so bad that pets will actually lick themselves raw or pull out all their fur. Once I have treated the condition, a pet sometimes will not stop licking his hotspots. This keeps the existing inflammation active and leads to a very frustrating cycle. Once we finally break the cycle, I do everything I can to keep the animal's skin issues under control from then on. Many of these pets are very sensitive to all allergens, such as fleas and ticks. So I make sure they have good flea and tick protection on all year round. Again, I want to do everything I can to prevent the cycle from starting again.

The connection between certain pet behaviors and wellness is understandable. I know when I don't feel well, I certainly have less tolerance for all types of annoyances. And why should our pets be any different? A pet that's in pain or is suffering from inflammation might do things that seem to be out of his nature, which is yet another reason to make sure our pets are cared for and comfortable. So, if your pet starts displaying unusual behavioral problems, always consider that there may be a medical condition that started the behavior. You cannot always just work on fixing the behavioral problem; you may have to investigate and treat an underlying medical condition before things will improve.

Have you ever had to deal with a pet's behavioral decline due to illness? Share your story about what you did for your furry friend.


William Draper, DVM, better known as "Dr. Will," is a well-known small animal practitioner in the Atlanta, GA area. He grew up in Inglewood,...More

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