What are Behavioral Problems?
Although there are obvious differences between the human brain and the canine brain, there also seem to be striking similarities in the way canine brains and human brains process emotional information when viewed with neuroimaging techniques. This would imply that the canine brain is just as susceptible to damage, chemical imbalance, and emotional trauma as our brains are. Although many behavioral issues can be changed through proper exercise, diet, and training, some dogs, like some humans, may need additional help to control their actions and reach their full potential.
Dogs, like people, may develop mental disorders and diseases that require medication along with behavioral therapy to correct.
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Symptoms of Behavioral Problems in Dogs
The behaviors that indicate a mental disorder may be fairly typical behaviors taken to an extreme, like excessive tail chasing or overeating, or they may be behaviors that are completely out of character, such as inappropriate elimination in a previously house-trained animal.
- Compulsive licking
- Drop in appetite
- Easily startled
- Excessive tail chasing
- Inappropriate eating
- Inappropriate elimination
- Obsessive chasing behaviors
- Unwarranted aggressive displays
Anxiety disorders - Dogs can develop inordinate amounts of anxiety in response to certain situations. The most common anxiety disorders in canines include separation anxiety, social anxiety, and noise anxiety.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ADHD - Also known as hyperkinesis in dogs, dogs who develop this disorder are often excitable puppies before becoming hyperkinetic adult dogs. Regular high-energy dogs are sometimes mistakenly diagnosed as ADHD, but in the non-hyperkinetic dog, prescription stimulants will worsen the problem rather than helping to correct it.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome - This is the canine version of Alzheimers or Dementia, and as such generally doesn’t occur until your dogs quite advanced in age.
Depression - Dogs, like people, can develop depression due to circumstances, such as the death of a friend, or a move to a new home, or due to chemical imbalances in the brain
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder OCD - Sometimes referred to as Canine Compulsive Disorder (CCD) in dogs, this disorder results in repeated frenetic behaviors which can be difficult to control. Although this disorder can be exacerbated by stress and boredom, it is genetic at its core. The CDH2 gene on the canine chromosome 7 indicates a dog with a high likelihood of developing Canine Compulsive Disorder.
Phobias - Dogs can develop phobias and irrational fear responses to specific sounds, smells, or signs.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD - An anxiety disorder that develops after a terrifying or traumatic event. Events such as a violent assault, natural disasters, accidents, or military combat can trigger PTSD in canines.
Causes of Behavioral Problems in Dogs
The causes of mental imbalance in dogs are a combination of nature and nurture. Possible causes could include:
Genetic predisposition - Certain breeds of dog may have a slight predisposition to develop some of these disorders. Dobermans, for instance, have a higher than average chance of developing an obsessive disorder known as flank sucking as well as narcolepsy.
Physical disorders - Some physical illnesses will cause symptoms that look like those mental disorders. Thyroid problems may instigate hyperkinetic behavior, and itchy skin from allergies may be to blame for obsessive chewing and licking.
Developmental factors - Improper socialization early in life can cause some of these disorders, like social anxiety, to appear, as can trauma during the dogs prenatal or neonatal development stage.
Environmental factors - This is particularly relevant for disorders like PTSD and depression. Traumatic accidents, the loss of an owner or a friend, and violent physical attacks can all trigger depression and in some cases PTSD.
Diagnosis of Behavioral Problems in Dogs
When you bring your dog into the veterinarian’s office to address a behavior related problem, she will take a behavioral history. Information needed for a complete behavioral history would include anything known about the breed, sex and age of the canine. It is also useful for your veterinarian to know how long these symptoms have been occurring and at what frequency they have been happening. Information about the duration of episodes and how your dog behaved once the episode was over can also be quite useful in diagnosing the underlying disorder as well.
Your dog’s doctor will also want to know if there have been any recent changes to your pet’s medications or diet. In order to determine if there is a medical component to the behavior, a physical examination will be completed, including ordering a complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. As thyroid disorders can often cause behavioral and mood changes the blood levels of thyroxine concentrations may also be measured. In some cases, such as in the case of hyperkinesis, the final diagnosis is determined by the reaction to the treatment. Clinically hyperactive dogs are rare and can be differentiated from other causes by their responses to stimulant medications.
Treatment of Behavioral Problems in Dogs
In some cases, mental issues can become unmanageable with training methods alone. These acute cases of anxiety may be either chemically or environmentally induced. Your veterinarian may prescribe psychiatric medications. Although a few medications in this category are relatively fast acting, most of them require six to eight weeks before substantial improvement is seen. The most commonly used psychiatric medications for canines include:
- Selective Serotonin reuptake inhibitors - Often used in canines for generalized fears and obsessive-compulsive behaviors, medication such as Prozac and Zoloft
- Tricyclic antianxiety, antidepressant medications - Medications such as Clomicalm, a drug specifically designed to help treat separation anxiety in dogs, and Elavil, fall into this category, and are commonly used to treat both anxious and obsessive behavior in canines
- Benzodiazepine derivatives - Drugs like Xanax and Valium are effective for the temporary relief of anxiety disorders as these medications have a relatively quick action, but dogs often build up an immunity to these compounds, making them less suited for long term use
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors MOAI - This medication is used in an attempt to counteract the effects of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
- Dietary supplements of carnitine, lipoic acid, antioxidants, and omega-3s, have also been found to be effective in controlling the degradation of this disorder
Recovery of Behavioral Problems in Dogs
Medications given for psychological imbalances will take several weeks before their effectiveness is known, and it is essential that your veterinarian knows all of the other medications your dog is on. Many antidepressants and antianxiety medications have contraindications with certain pain medications, antihistamines, and even herbal treatments such as St. John’s Wort or Kava Kava. Medications alone are rarely effective in eliminating challenging problem behaviors, and changes to both your pet’s exercise levels and diet are often helpful in reducing problems. Further behavioral training will help your pet to become a happier and healthier individual.
Behavioral Problems Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My dog is 11 months old every time she eats she acts like something is out to get her. She also does a lot of tail chasing. Barking while running my fence. What could this be
My Australian Shepherd is aggressive towards people he don't know I must cage him before I let someone in because I'm scared he might bite them he even went after his vet he's known since he was 8 weeks old he's overly protective of me not allowing my roommate to come anywhere near my room other then that he gets along very well with her & her dogs.
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I have a 14 month old Shepherd x Husky with grade 5/6 heart murmur,mitral valve issue and enlarged left side of heart. Since around 12 weeks onwards she has displayed aggressive behaviour especially from touch and guards her rear end a lot with dogs and humans alike. This has progressed to such an extent that at night I am having to crate her as she shows aggression if I move position in bed etc. It seems to be worse when she is tired so my question is does her heart problems have any connection to her behavioural problems?
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My Australian Shepherd is aggressive towards people he don't know I must cage him before I let someone in because I'm scared he might bite them mhe even went after his vet he's known since he was 8 weeks old he's overly protective of me not allowing my roommate to come anywhere near my room other then that he gets along very well with her & her dogs
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