Pet Behavior Problems, Horse Diarrhea, and Other Pet Health Advice

In this installment of her regular column, the author discusses possible sources of pet behavior problems and possible causes of horse diarrhea.

| April/May 1994

Human households have contained domestic animals for thousands of years. At present, no less than 61% of U.S. households have animals, and more than half have more than one animal. The popular literature has extolled the beneficial consequences of contact with animals for human health. During the past decade, television, radio, and the print media have discussed the value pets have in lowering blood pressure, providing aging folks with constant companionship, improving survival after a heart attack, and making people of all ages feel brighter and less lonely. Various studies have demonstrated that household pets are perceived to be family members.

Given these facts, it's almost impossible to believe that in 1990 alone, about 10 million dogs and 8 million cats were euthanized in animal shelters across the United States. And think of all the pets that have perished on the streets without becoming a statistic. Unwanted behavior was the number one cause for premature death of three-fourths of these animals. Only 12% of them were euthanized because of disease or old age. Most dogs and cats become unwanted and homeless when owners can no longer cope with pet behavior problems—behavior that is no longer acceptable to owners, neighbors, or society.

These sad statistics are why behavior management is fast becoming an extremely important function and responsibility of veterinarians. As important as it is to vaccinate, neuter, spay, and manage kidney and heart disease in today's pets, it's just as important that veterinarians consider their responsibility to help clients and their pets deal with unwanted and unacceptable behavior. In fact, veterinary hospitals are often the first place to seek counseling for behavior problems in pets because of the importance in ruling out primary or secondary medical problems that may be the root of the unwanted behavior.

Some examples of natural behaviors of dogs and cats that are often unacceptable to people are chasing, biting, growling, and other forms of aggression, marking with urine, pulling at collars, territorial aggression, barking, jumping, roaming, and digging.

The first generality in dealing with truly troublesome behavior problems is this: Seek veterinary help first! I can't tell you the number of animals I've seen with medical problems that actually cause unwanted behaviors. My favorite example is the family who brings in their ancient feline companion for euthanasia because "she's been urinating outside the litter box all week and she's old anyway." Upon further questioning, it becomes apparent that the cat actually has a cystitis, or bladder infection, confirmed by a simple urine analysis, common in older patients, and treatable with appropriate nutritional counseling and antibiotic therapy.

The second generality is to be patient, especially with young puppies and kittens, and with the geriatric animals (these days considered to be any dog or cat over nine years of age). Raising a puppy or kitten is similar to raising a small child. Time and perseverance, which in our hectic daily lives can be hard to come by, are of utmost importance. Youngsters are not going to learn new behaviors within a week or two; some may take a month or more. Repetition is also a key.

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