Medical Conditions and Behavior

Medical Conditions and Behavior

by Christine D. Calder DVM DACVB

When diagnosing behavior problems in pets, it is important to first look for an underlying medical condition that may be causing the behavior. Many behavior problems such as aggression, resource guarding, house-soiling, and compulsive behaviors are the result of a primary medical disease rather than a behavioral one.

Common Medical Conditions that Result in Behavior Changes

  • Seizures
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Back and neck pain
  • Allergies (skin, food, environmental)
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Cushing’s Disease
  • Addison’s Disease
  • Medications (prednisone, Apoquel)
  • Anal gland disease
  • Parasites (external and internal)
  • Certain Cancer

Dogs of any age can develop behavior changes secondary to pain or other diseases although older dogs are more commonly affected. When an underlying medical condition results in a behavior change, that change may come on suddenly or a stable behavior worsens. Warning signs for aggression may also disappear.

With any change in behavior, a physical exam by your veterinarian should be priority number one. Often bloodwork and other diagnostics, such as radiographs, are needed to find the cause. A complete neurological and orthopedic exam will give more information about the overall health of your dog, but many dogs hide pain. Videos of your dog doing normal things throughout the day such as lying down, walking, or rising from a resting position can supply more insight in to how your dog feels on a “day to day” basis.

Treatment will vary based on the cause for the behavior; however, once the medical condition is treated, behaviors often get better or resolve completely.


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