Determining the cause of cats’ and dogs’ common behavior issues can be tough. Before chalking up your pet’s behavioral change to an anthropomorphized feeling, like resentment or jealousy, rule out a medical issue. Many behavioral changes are triggered by medical conditions, and once the medical problem is treated, you can take steps to successfully help your pet return to their acceptable behavior. Our Belmont Animal Hospital professionals describe the most common pet behavior problems, their connection to underlying medical issues, and how to resolve the unacceptable behavior.

#1: Inappropriate elimination in pets

Inappropriate elimination is one of the top pet behavior problems and a common reason owners surrender their pets to animal shelters. In general, cats are the biggest offenders, followed by small dogs. In many cases, one of the following medical issues instigates inappropriate elimination:

  • Urinary tract infections and disease 
  • Kidney failure 
  • Diabetes 
  • Osteoarthritis 
  • Medications such as diuretics 

Once these medical issues have been successfully treated or are under control, you may need to retrain your pet to use the litter box or eliminate outside.

Pinpointing the reasons for your pet’s inappropriate elimination can be a complex challenge. Young puppies and kittens may simply need additional training. Once your veterinarian determines no medical issue is causing your pet to eliminate inappropriately, they will ask you about your pet possibly being affected by stress, anxiety, bullying, inadequate resources, territorial marking, and negative associations. 

Your cat may have pain on urination after developing an inflamed bladder (i.e., feline idiopathic cystitis) as a result of the stress caused by another household pet’s bullying. A cat with feline idiopathic cystitis associates their litter box with urination pain, so they instead urinate on soft surfaces, like rugs, blankets, and towels. To resolve your cat’s cystitis, you must minimize their stress by:

  • Providing each household cat their own essentials (i.e., litter boxes, food and water bowls, resting areas) 
  • Diffusing calming pheromones in the environment
  • Feeding a prescription diet that combats stress and urinary issues
  • Trying anti-anxiety medication
  • Administering anti-pain medications to soothe urinary pain
  • Confining your cat to a small room with the litter box to retrain litter box use

Your pet’s inappropriate elimination issues can be frustrating, but by understanding the problem’s root cause, you can help your pet get the help they need and resolve the problem.

#2: Destructive behavior in pets

Boredom or anxiety often cause your pet’s destructive behavior (e.g., scratching, chewing, digging), because pets who do not receive adequate mental stimulation will entertain themselves. Anxiety can also present as destructive behavior. If your pet has separation anxiety, they may try to chew or claw their way out of a room to find you. 

To identify why your pet chews your rugs and shoes, scratches your new furniture or curtains, or digs holes everywhere in your backyard, ask yourself: Does my 80-hour work week leave little time to play with my 6-month-old Labrador puppy? Or: Is my solitary, middle-aged cat stressed  since I moved in with my partner and their two cats and a puppy? Think about how your schedule or new situation may be affecting your pet.

In many cases, providing your pet ample environmental enrichment can help reduce their destructive behavior. You should engage your pet in plenty of physically and mentally stimulating activities, and provide them with adequate resources to satisfy their natural instincts. Offer your cat a variety of appropriate scratching surfaces and climbing towers that include hiding spots. Ensure your dog has the space to run off leash and burn energy. Rather than always feeding your pet in a conventional bowl, make mealtime fun by feeding them with a food puzzle. Remember, an excellent way to stave off your pet’s boredom and alleviate their stress is to provide them games that promote mental stimulation and physical activity. 

#3: Nipping and biting in pets

Puppies and kittens commonly display mouthy behavior. Be mindful that playful nipping and biting can eventually put you in harm’s way for serious injury when your dog is grown and their jaw muscles reach full strength. To prevent a future disaster, nip your young pet’s biting in the bud.  

To help stop your pet’s nipping, discourage rough play. Never allow your pet to view your hands as chew toys, and do not use your hands to wrestle with kittens or puppies. Redirect your nipping and biting pet to an appropriate chew toy, and reward them for switching their focus from your hands to their toys. 

If your pet continues trying to chew your hands or nip at your legs or pants, immediately stop playing, and ignore them. If your pet refuses to relent, leave them alone in the room. Your pet will soon associate their inappropriate biting behavior with losing what they most want—your attention.

Any pet’s behavioral change warrants a veterinary exam to rule out underlying medical causes. If your furry pal is exhibiting unusual behavior, schedule an appointment with our Belmont Animal Hospital team.