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Ten Signs Your Pet May Have Behavioral Issues

PetMD Editorial
Updated: October 16, 2020
Published: September 04, 2012
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Does Your Pet Need a Veterinary Behaviorist?

By Mary Majchrowski, CPDT-KA 


When it comes to problem solving pet behaviors, there are various options an owner can pursue. Some behaviors can be changed relatively easily with some modifications in your home, and others may be best addressed with the help of a skilled trainer. However, behavior problems that are severe, dangerous, or linked to a medical condition should be evaluated by a veterinary behaviorist — a licensed veterinarian who has undergone additional years of study to become board certified in animal behavior. Here are 10 behaviors that may benefit from the help of such an expert.


1. Separation Anxiety

Does your dog get upset when you leave the house? Signs of severe separation anxiety in dogs include major destruction in the home, breaking out of a crate or enclosure, an inability to self-settle or soothe, and/or causing harm or injury to him or herself.

2. Fear of Thunder or Loud Noises

A bit of concern during a violent thunderstorm is understandable, even for humans. But some dogs panic when the skies turn gray. If your dog becomes destructive, urinates or defecates inappropriately, runs away, shakes uncontrollably, or otherwise panics during a thunderstorm, fireworks or other loud noises, look into treatment with a veterinary behaviorist.

3. Compulsive or Repetitive Behaviors

Do you think it’s cute when your dog chases his tail? What if your dog chased it over and over again, every time he or she got nervous or upset? Some dogs repeat a behavior to the point of injury or interrupting normal life. These behaviors can include tail chasing, licking (an object or a body part), spinning, fly biting, and chasing or fixating on lights or shadows.

4. Aggression Towards Other Animals

Aggression can vary in intensity from a couple of barks or a snap to uncontrollable and dangerous behavior. A veterinary behaviorist can help if your dog wants to attacks other dogs or tries to kills the neighbor’s cat. He or she can also help if your cats fight anytime they get near each other, or with other inter-animal aggression problems involving cats.

5. Aggression Towards People

Pets that are aggressive towards people can be a challenge to help. Many dog trainers don’t even handle aggression cases, and some training methods can actually make aggression worse. Veterinary behaviorists commonly work with cat or dog aggression cases and have the qualifications to properly address even the most difficult cases.

6. Hyperactive and Reactive Behavior

Some dogs are naturally a little over the top. Others can be so enthusiastic and energetic that they are nearly impossible to live with. Dogs that bark incessantly, are uncontrollable when visitors arrive, or rarely seem to tire or settle down may benefit from an appointment with a veterinary behaviorist.

7. Anxious or Fearful Behavior

Does your pet cower or quiver when strangers visit your home? Is your dog the type to hide from his own shadow? See a veterinary behaviorist. Anxiety, nervousness, and fear can make it hard for your dog to enjoy life, especially if it seems there is something they are afraid of around every corner!

8. Litter Box Problems

Cats are generally clean creatures, and using a litter box for those unpleasant necessities makes them relatively easy to care for. No leashes or trips outside required! However, a cat that doesn’t always use the litter box can be a real frustration. This problem can be behavioral or medical in nature, making a veterinary behaviorist a good choice.

9. Any Behavior that Could be a Health Problem

Behavior problems and medical problems can be hard to distinguish and may also be related. A dog that used to be well housetrained may not just be regressing in his or her behavior. A pet that tries to bite during petting may do so because something hurts. And an obsessive licker can have an anxiety problem, a skin problem, or both. Get down to the underlying issue by visiting a veterinary behaviorist.

10. Hard to Fix Problems

Consider a veterinary behaviorist for a next step if you have tried one or more qualified trainers and not found a resolution, or if you have lots of dog experience and the behavior just doesn’t seem “normal” to you. Also, your pet’s regular veterinarian may recommend a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist if he or she feels it is appropriate.

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