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6 Effective ways to treat pet behavior problems

San Diego

Easy-to-follow plan of action when presented with behavior patients

daviles / stock.adobe.com

daviles / stock.adobe.com

Pets possess countless positive traits, provide years of joy, comfort, and love, and are treated as cherished family members. But make no mistake, pets are not perfect, and it’s a struggle when they show signs of bad or unusual behavior. When this occurs, pet owners want answers quickly.

Amy Pike, DVM, DACVB, IAABC-CABC, owner of the Animal Behavior Wellness Center in Fairfax, Virginia, addressed behavioral challenges and shared a plan of action that she deemed “The 6 M’s of Treating Any Behavior Problem,” in a sessin at the 2022 Fetch dvm360® Conference in San Diego, California. “I wanted to come up with something that was easy to remember so that when [veterinary professionals] are presented with anything like this you can apply this to help you work through a case fairly quickly,” she said.1

The types of pet behavior concerns that Pike targeted stem from issues such as fears and phobias, anxiety, aggression, compulsive disorders, panic disorders, and nuisance behaviors. The 6 M’s include:

  • Medical rule-outs
  • Management
  • Mental enrichment
  • Modification of behavior
  • Medication and products
  • Monitor and modify the plan as needed

Pike’s offerings provided a comprehensive and common-sense approach to curbing a pet’s bad or unusual behavior. The medical rule-out is a wise first assessment because it aims to narrow down the problem right away and find the best treatment option.

Is it a medical issue or behavioral? Pike paints a scenario where a pet owner informs you that their dog jumps on guests. Although it could just be that the dog is super excited to see guests, it could be something more. It could be that the dog has pain in its back. Maybe it normally wouldn’t jump on guests, but the dog is doing it because it may be feeling anxious.

“The sudden onset of a new behavior or worsening of a previously well-controlled behavior is absolutely medical until proven otherwise,” Pike explained.

Examination of the animal should include a complete blood count, chemistry, and urinalysis, and if indicated, a total T4 and free T4 by equilibrium dialysis. The physical exam should be followed by orthopedic and neurological exams. “And then, depending on what you’re finding based on the symptoms, you may want to do additional diagnostics, which is radiographs or an abdominal ultrasound,” she added. Once these procedures are complete and there are no medical etiologies, the next step would be to look closely at behavioral treatment options.

Treatment may resolve the behavior issue. However, if the behavior remains after proper treatments, Pike suggests the following:

  • Consider alternative medical therapies for the underlying etiology
  • If the medical condition is completely cured, consider that A) medical disorders may not have been a contributing factor; and B) an emotional response remains
  • Proceed with behavioral treatment

If things persist, Pike suggested moving on to the next step: management of the behavior. Management prevents the practice of problematic behaviors, provides immediate safety, decreases the pet’s overall stress and arousal, and sets up an environment for success, Pike said.

Each of the 6 steps provides opportunities to find a pathway back to healthy pet behaviors. To learn more from Pike about her 6 M Formula, view her interview with dvm360®.


Pike A. The 6 M’s of treating any behavior problem. Presented at: Fetch dvm360® Conference; San Diego, California. December 2-4, 2022.

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