How Your Pets’ Health Affects Their Behavior
In the 1800’s of Tsavo, Kenya, the local rail workers were plagued by a duo of man-eating lions. After 35 deaths, the big cats in question were captured and it was discovered that both of the lions were suffering from chronic pain due to different injuries. While chronic pain, in this case, meant that the lions targeted easier prey, the situation brought attention to the different ways an animal being in pain changes how it behaves.
We all know that when we have a toothache or headache, we are more likely to be irritable than normally. Fortunately for others around us, we usually lash out with our words or choose to avoid people when we are feeling this way. Unfortunately for our pets who also have the odd sore muscle or health condition, these options are not always available. It is important to take into consideration how a pets’ health will affect their behavior, especially when training.
What happens when pets are in pain?
Most canine trainers know to evaluate a pets’ temper and baseline behavior during an evaluation period, both to identify any behaviors to encourage or discourage as well as to learn what unusual personality quirks to look out for. Once you get to know a pet, you can predict how they will react, what will draw them out of their shell, and what their favorite things are. Unfortunately, when their personality suddenly changes or your dog starts to dislike past favorites, the training session takes a back seat and the detective work comes into play.
Pets who have a health condition that causes chronic or acute pain won’t be able to use their words or spell out what is bothering them but will instead show it in other ways. Dogs have evolved from their free-roaming ancestors to be able to show little to no pain, even when having a life-threatening condition, so sometimes these issues are hard to spot. That said, a change in activity level, sudden aggression or favoring one part of their body more, unusual nervousness, lack of appetite or interest in favorite treats, all of these behaviors can spell that a deeper issue is present. These changes become the duty of the trainer to sniff out, making the trainer become the advocate for their student.
How to recognize the signs of pain in pets?
Many pet parents or trainers may already be familiar with spotting health conditions in pets once they’ve had aging pets in the family, especially as chronic conditions like tooth decay and arthritis rear their heads, but pain can also show up in other, unexpected ways. Once you get to know a pet’s personality and understand what normal behavior for them is, any of the following could mean a trip to the vet’s is in order:
- Aggression: suddenly snapping at other people or pets in the house (even if they are not interacting with them)
- Depression: if they are becoming more withdrawn, reluctant to play with toys or others, or are uninterested in the activities they used to enjoy
- Changes in daily habits: maybe they’ve started sleeping all day (or in a strange place), maybe they’ve stopped drinking water or are drinking all the time, or maybe they have started eating their food less or in a strange manner
- Physical changes: if they have trouble walking or getting up, shaking, drooling, panting or start sitting or walking differently
Any or all of these behaviors showing up in your pets’ routine means it’s time to make an appointment for the vet to see if there is a deeper problem, and it’s also a good idea to suspend any active training sessions until you’ve gotten to the bottom of it.
How to prevent health problems from affecting behavior?
Essentially, the best you can do to prevent health problems from affecting your time with your pet is to maintain their health as best as possible. It is also important to detect problems early, so as to prevent your dogs from lashing out in ways that can harm themselves or others. In order to do this, it’s good to always check in with your pet before training to see if they are behaving differently than normal, and also to make sure you have yearly exams with your vet (or more frequents when dealing with senior pets). Once a health problem is identified, always follow the treatment plan recommended by your veterinarian.
Chronic or sudden health conditions can nearly always be managed through careful veterinary care, but, when left untreated, a pet pushed to the edge of their abilities can act in unexpected ways. If your dog is acting in an unusual way, it’s important to care for their mental well being along with their physical care.
By Lauren Pescarus