A Dog’s Behavior And Health—Are They Connected?

By Martin Deeley

Just as a person’s behavior and attitudes can change for the worse when they’re sick, a dog’s behavior problems may be the result of health issues.

Let’s take one common behavior problem: housebreaking. Nothing gets dog owners more frustrated than their dog soiling the house.

Consider the dog’s age and previous cleanliness record. Soiling the house can occur for a number of reasons, but if a dog suddenly begins to do this or is urinating many times in small quantities, I always suggest taking an early morning sample and getting it to the vet for analysis.

Kidney problems, urinary tract infections and other diseases can create excessive and irregular urination. In addition, female puppies can have an inverted vulva, which is difficult to clean and gets an infection that creates irritation making them want to urinate more often.

How a dog’s diet can affect behavior
Your dog could encounter hormonal imbalance, some dog breeds are prone to an increase in thyroid abnormalities, for example. But, there are ways to easily and conveniently identify these abnormalities. Some of the symptoms of hypothyroid disease are fearfulness, aggression, loss of fur, and altered brain function. Treatment will often include a combination of both a special diet and medication. Consult your vet.

Cancer and dog behavior
Diabetes, testicular and ovarian cancers can certainly affect behavior. A client of ours was experiencing aggression problems with her female cocker. Comprehensive tests and examinations ultimately showed her to have a tumor on one of her ovaries. The dog eventually overcame her behavioral issues once she was spayed and underwent some additional training.

Parasites and dog behavior
Parasites can create internal disorders and these are often the prime cause of behavior changes. Therefore regular deworming for parasites is essential, especially heartworm.

Tapeworm is more easily identified. It shows mainly first thing in the morning where it can be seen quite clearly as what looks like moving white rice grains in the feces. Deworm your dog regularly!

Food allergies
Some breeds can experience chronic bowel syndrome, pancreatitis and have food allergies. In fact, we often see dog allergies that create skin problems and internal disorders.

Skin disease
The discomfort from skin disease can initiate unpleasant behaviors. One dog we worked with had severe skin allergies and, as a result, became very touch sensitive and aggressive.

Heart disease
Heart problems, bacterial and viral diseases, and stress can also play a part in affecting a dogs behavior. Pain and discomfort is probably the most common reason for unwanted behavior. I started off by saying we do not behave as we normally would when we are feeling ‘under the weather’ or in pain, and your dog is no different.

What to tell your vet
When visiting the vet let her know about any behavior problems you have noticed on your pet, so she will know to look for specific causes.

To identify certain diseases tests may be necessary. In the case of irregular urination, for instance, urine sample analysis, X-rays, and even MRIs may be needed depending on the case.

Always remember that your vet cannot know how to help unless you tell her the problems you are encountering. So, speak up!

Help your dog achieve balance through nutrition and training
Exercise, discipline, and affection, in that order. Exercise feeds the body, discipline feeds the mind, and affection feeds the heart. Just like us, our dogs need a healthy, well-balanced diet combined with regular exercise in order to thrive. Work with your trainer and veterinarian to come up with a routine that works for you and your dog.

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