Are Medical Issues Contributing to Your Dog’s Behavior?

Any sudden change in a dog’s behavior or personality is worth discussing with your Veterinarian. Many illnesses can cause dogs to display unusual behaviors as they are coping with the illness. It’s up to us to be observant and to communicate any behavior issues that we see with our Veterinarian in the hope that they will aid in diagnosing any illnesses that our dogs are dealing with.

Some dogs can become irritable to the point that they become aggressive when dealing with an illness. One common way pets will express their discomfort is to be less tolerant of being disturbed or touched in areas that are sore. Any dog who is feeling as if they are not as mobile and able to get up and leave can feel vulnerable and fearful. They may bite, snap or growl if they are worried that we will touch them in a sensitive area.

Some of the major causes of pain in dogs can be:

  • Recovering from recent surgeries or veterinary procedures
  • Arthritis
  • Back/Neck Pain
  • Ear Infections
  • Allergies and associated inflammation or infections
  • Ligament tears
  • Infections
  • Tick-borne illnesses
  • Tumors
  • GI pain such as pancreatitis or severe diarrhea
  • Dental pain
  • Other wounds or injuries

Diseases of the major organs of the heart, kidney, liver, and spleen can cause a change in behavior. If the organs are not functioning properly, the dog can experience agitation and a general feeling of being unwell. If the blood is not circulating properly then the dog can become very lethargic. Kidney or urinary tract ailments can result in a break in housebreaking. An intestinal issue can also cause diarrhea and a seeming lack of housebreaking.

Neurological Ailments such as Epilepsy where the dog has seizures or experiences shaking or tremors may not result in your dog being aggressive, but your observations are key to helping your vet make a diagnosis and guiding you in how to manage the disease. Often there is a behavior component before a seizure occurs and you need to be mindful of the phases of a seizure and keep a journal of each seizure so that your vet can guide the treatment plan. Sometimes neurological symptoms are very vague and can be mistaken for Fear or Anxiety. By journaling each time you see the behavior make note of what was seen, how long it lasted, and anything that was going on before you noticed the behavior.

Diseases involving the Endocrine system such as Cushing’s Disease, Addison’s disease, and Hypothyroidism all can cause varying behavioral symptoms such as lethargy, weight change, increased thirst and urination, weakness, trembling, change in haircoat, vomiting, and diarrhea. These symptoms

tend to come and go, but your observations will be key to guiding your vet into choosing the correct tests to check for them.

Dogs with allergies can lick themselves excessively, sometimes causing Lick Granulomas (sores). This can be confused with a dog who is licking to soothe themselves because they are stressed. Always look for a medical reason for the licking with the hope that once the allergies are treated the dog will no longer feel the need to lick.

Ingesting toxins can affect your dog’s behavior. For a sudden illness where the dog is acting strangely, consider that the dog may have come into contact with a toxin. One that has become a recent concern because it is found in sugar-free gum, candy, and breath products is Xylitol poisoning. Xylitol is very toxic to our dogs. Another is the ingestion of Cannabis products. Dogs need to be seen by a Veterinarian immediately if you believe your dog has been exposed to either. Click here for more information on Harmful Products for our dogs.

It’s important to remember that our dogs age faster than we do, and for some breeds, they may become seniors as early as 8 years old. The aging process causes changes to the dogs at a faster rate than we experience. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction can present as disturbances to the sleep/wake cycle in the dog and they will become active at night. They may become disoriented in the home and panic when they get “lost”. They may suddenly have problems with being left alone when that has never been an issue for them previously.

Any illness or ailment that affects the dog’s senses will often cause a behavior change. Any change to the dog’s hearing, vision, or sense of smell can appear as if the dog is ignoring you, or being disobedient. Always look to changes in those before making that assumption.

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