Pets who show problems are often suffering from underlying psychological problems, such as anxiety, fear, and frustration. A behavioral problem does not necessarily mean that an animal is "bad." It often indicates distress or misunderstanding that, with professional help, can be addressed effectively. In all cases, we invite you for an in-person assessment so the doctor can make a diagnosis and create a treatment plan.
The Veterinary Behavior Service plays a crucial role in enhancing the relationship between pets and their owners, ensuring the wellbeing of animals and helping manage and treat a range of behavioral issues.
Behavioral issues in cats and dogs can vary widely and be influenced by a number of factors, including genetic predisposition, early life experiences, socialization, and environmental stressors. Often there are underlying medical conditions that also need to be ruled out. Here are some common conditions:
Aggression: This is a common issue in both dogs and cats. Aggression can be directed towards people, other animals, or both, and can have a variety of triggers such as pain, fear, or territorial defense.
Separation-Related Anxiety: This condition manifests as distress and behavior problems when animals are left alone. This could include excessive barking or howling, destructive behavior, or inappropriate elimination.
Fear-Based Behaviors: These can be due to loud noises (such as thunderstorms or fireworks), unfamiliar people or animals, or new environments. They can lead to avoidance behaviors, or self-injured out of panic attack.
Compulsive Disorders: Both dogs and cats can develop repetitive, compulsive behaviors such as excessive grooming (leading to hair loss), tail chasing, or in cats, wool-sucking (an obsessive behavior where the cat sucks or chews on woolen or similar materials).
Inappropriate Elimination: This might mean not using a litter box, house soiling, or marking behaviors with urine and/or stools.
Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome: Older pets can exhibit signs similar to Alzheimer's in humans, including disorientation, changes in their interactions with people, sleep disturbances, house soiling, and changes in activity levels.
These are just a few examples of common behavioral issues seen in cats and dogs. It's important to seek help from a professional by scheduling an appointment if you're noticing any changes in your pet's behavior or if they're exhibiting any concerning signs. Often, these problems can be improved or even resolved with the right approach, improving the quality of life for both the pet and the owner.
Our veterinary behaviorists may utilize a range of tools and technologies to help them understand, diagnose, and treat behavior problems in pets. Here are a few examples:
Video Recording Equipment: Video is a very useful tool for behaviorists, as it allows them to observe the animal's behavior in its usual environment without the potential disruptions of a stranger's presence. Owners might be asked to record specific situations or times of day to provide a more accurate picture of the pet's behavior.
Behavior Modification Tools: These might include things like special harnesses, head collars, or muzzles for dogs, pheromone diffusers or sprays for both dogs and cats, or even specific toys or enrichment items. The tools used will depend on the specific behavior issue and the individual animal's needs.
Clinical Tools: In some cases, a full physical examination may be necessary to rule out medical causes for behavioral changes. So, standard veterinary equipment like stethoscopes, blood testing equipment, etc., could also be used.
Remember, the primary "tool" of our veterinary behaviorists is their knowledge and understanding of animal behavior. They'll use their expertise along with these tools and technologies to provide the best possible care and treatment for their furry patients. Schedule an appointment today.
Common Behavioral Questions
Why is my pet behaving aggressively?
Aggression in pets can have many causes. It could be a response to fear, a way of protecting territory or resources, a reaction to pain, or a result of poor socialization. It's important to work with a professional to understand the root cause of the aggression and develop a tailored treatment plan.
My pet is house soiling, what can I do?
Inappropriate elimination can be linked to a variety of factors, including medical issues, stress, changes in the household, or issues with the pet's litter box or toileting area. It's important to first rule out any potential medical problems with your vet. If the issue is behavioral, strategies might include changing the location or type of litter box, addressing sources of stress, or behavioral modification techniques.
My dog has separation anxiety, how can I help them?
Separation anxiety is known to be misdiagnosed. First, record a video and make a diary to track incidents. Once you know the pattern, sometimes you may find a solution. However, if it is a severe case, we recommend you contact a board certified veterinary behaviorist.
To get answers to your specific questions, please schedule an appoinment.
Tips for Behavior Health
Preventing your pet's behavior issues at home is a critical part of overall behavior health. Here are some general tips:
Consistent Training: Consistency is key in training pets. Make sure everyone in your household is on the same page about the rules for your pet, and ensure they are enforced consistently.
Positive Reinforcement: Reward your pet for good behavior instead of punishing them for bad behavior. This can involve treats, toys, praise, or anything else your pet finds rewarding.
Enrichment: Provide diverse physical and mental stimulation for your pet. This can involve walks and playtime for dogs or toys, bird feeders, or climbing trees for cats. A bored pet is often a pet that develops behavior issues.
Socialization: Proper socialization is particularly important for young animals. They should be exposed to a variety of people, animals, and environments in a positive and controlled way to help prevent fear and aggression issues later.
Routine: Pets thrive on routine, and a regular schedule for feeding, play, and rest can help alleviate many behavior problems, including anxiety and house soiling.
Safe Spaces: Ensure your pet has a quiet, comfortable place they can retreat to when they're feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
Health Check-ups: Regular vet visits are important as many behavior issues have a medical component. Pain, illness, or discomfort can often cause or exacerbate behavior problems.
These tips are not treatment for pets with behavior conditions. If your pets needs further help or is exhibiting serious or concerning behavior problems, it's always best to consult with one of our veterinary behaviorists. They can evaluate the individual case and provide guidance that's tailored to your pet's specific needs and help you develop a comprehensive treatment plan.
Our animal behavior research investigates the many elements that affect how animals behave, giving us deeper understanding of their causal factors, biological markers of the condition, and social cognitive behaviors. This interdisciplinary study improves our understanding of problematic behaviors and treatment plans. It also improves our relationships with animals and the wellbeing of animals.
Learn more about our animal behavior research
Schedule an Appointment
24/7 Emergency Phone: 765-494-1107
Small Animal Hospital Entrances:
- EMERGENCY - Small Animal Emergency
- Entrance A - Lynn Hall Small Animal Lobby
- Entrance B - David & Bonnie Brunner Small Animal Lobby
625 Harrison St
West Lafayette, IN 47907
About Your Appointment
Due to the length of behavior appointments and limited appointment slots, behavior appointments usually book out 2-3 weeks in advance. Because of the extensive history preparation prior to the evaluation, we require that all new behavior clients leave a deposit, which will be applied towards the final cost of your visit. We ask that any cancellations or rescheduling be made at least 48 hours in advance so that accommodations can be made for clients on our waiting list. Exceptions will be made for changes in appointment times due to weather.
When making an appointment, please keep in mind that we encourage as many family members as possible to attend the behavior evaluation, but it is advised to bring another adult to supervise small children.
Before your appointment, the clinician will review the behavior history form, medical record, and laboratory results from the last six months for your pet. Please have your referring veterinarian send them to the receptionist at email@example.com or fax them to: 765-496-1025. It is very important for our team to receive your completed behvaior history form prior to your appointment to ensure the appropriate preparations can be made to make the consultation time as efficient as possible.
Preparing For Your Visit
How to be prepared for a behavior appointment
Please bring your pet and any family members that are involved in the behavior problem or the treatment of the problem. In all cases, each animal needs to come for a first visit evaluation to meet the behavior doctor (clinician) who will make diagnoses and form the overall treatment plan and goal. The doctor may refer you to further evaluation in different specialty services to rule out possible underlying medical problems. When needed, the doctor would consider a pharmacological intervention as well.
In the second appointment, you and your pet will come back to learn the further adjustment and addition of the treatment plan at home. All plans are tailored by the clinician at each visit based on your pet’s behavior evaluation and treatment/medication response.
The evaluation visit (1st visit) will take about 60-90 minutes. The treatment visit (2nd visit), scheduled within 4-6 weeks after the 1st visit, will be about 60 minutes per visit.
From our clinical experience, we have learned the cases with more communication and frequent visits to the clinic result in better outcomes. Therefore, after the 2nd visit, each visit will include 2 months of unlimited remote follow-ups. Separately, clients can take advantage of our loyalty program, which offers discounted rates for subsequent visits!
Safety for your visit
If you need to bring more than one animal to the appointment, please let us know in advance. As a safety precaution, we recommend that each dog brought to an appointment has its own handler.
There is a common waiting room for all Purdue University Small Animal Hospital services. If you are not comfortable bringing your animal into the public waiting area, please inform the reception staff when the appointment is made; you may also call 765-494-1107 when you arrive. Our staff will assist you with bringing your pet directly into our consultation room.
What to bring to a behavior appointment
Here are some helpful things to keep in mind for your first visit.
For Both Dogs and Cats
Items that will be helpful to bring include:
- Favorite treats (especially if your pet has food allergies)
- Any training tools or aids that are currently or previously used (if you still have them)
- Current medication/supplements used
- Videos and photographs of your pet and their environment can be extremely helpful. If you can safely record your pet exhibiting the problem behavior please do so (e.g. record behaviors in your pet when home alone or any behavior you are worried about). Please do not put your pet, any people, or other animals in a dangerous situation (e.g., aggression) just to obtain a video.
When bringing a cat, especially for house soiling problems, please bring a diagram of your house and label the location of: food dishes, water dishes, and litter boxes.
We request that you bring your pet to the consultation hungry by skipping their morning meal before the appointment. This helps your pet interact with us during training and behavior modification.
Behavior Medicine Team
Nurses / Technicians