PUBLISHED: 06:26 06 October 2014
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2006
Over the years working as a vet I have become increasingly aware of the need for a better understanding of our pets behavioural needs. Since writing for the EDP Norfolk magazine I have only once been asked about a medical condition – all other queries have been about pet “behaviour problems”. I always wonder why I can’t fit what I want to say into the column, but now I realise . . . behavioural medicine is a massive topic and opinions are varied – even among experts. I would go so far as to say we get asked something behaviour-related in almost every consultation.
Originally I was going to raise the subject of pet bereavement, but it looks like the reader’s question is going to need my full attention again this month. In a nutshell, yes, my colleagues and I believe that animals grieve. They pine for both their furry and human family members when there has been a loss. I have seen it, experienced it with my own pets, and heard countless anecdotes.
They all behave differently and have different requirements during the grieving period. As with all of us, the grief is dampened with time, but if your pet is particularly distressed by a loss please speak to your vet. There may be appeasing pheromones, herbal treatments or even medication to help them through the difficult time.
So on to this month’s reader’s question: My aging wire-hair fox terrier is now defecating in the home. How do I train him to use the litter box?
Unfortunately this question opens more than one can of worms. Firstly, we need to determine whether there is a medical reason for the problem. Factors that increase the volume of faeces (diet change); problems that increase the frequency of defecation (diarrhoea or colitis); problems that influence bowel control (neurological problems); and even arthritis (reluctance to get up and walk or to flex the spine) can contribute to defecation indoors.
Behaviour problems including separation anxiety and cognitive dysfunction (similar to Alzheimer’s) could contribute to house-soiling. In this case, cognitive dysfunction should be on our list of possible causes, but medical problems need to be ruled out first. In order to do this, you may need to do both blood and faecal analysis as well as some specialised tests to assess liver and digestive function.
If there are no medical causes, then you can start to think about the behavioural aspects.
Unfortunately, training any dog to do something such as going to the toilet in a litter box takes a lot of positive association and rewards, consistency and perseverance. If your dog has brain aging or separation anxiety and you are out during the day, training could prove very difficult.
Ass I’ve said in previous articles, behavioural health is as important as physical health and the diagnosis of such problems is often not straightforward. If you need advice, contact your vet surgeon or a behaviourist that is registered with a reputable society.
Chapelfield Veterinary Partnership: 21 Chapelfield Road, Norwich, NR2 1RP, 01603 629046; Post Mill Close, Wymondham, NR18 0NL, 01953 602139; Wellesley Road, Long Stratton, NR15 2PD, 01508 530686; Bungay Road, Brooke, NR15 1DX, 01508 558228; 160-162 Norwich Road, New Costessey, NR5 0EH, 01603 743725.