Managing behavior in pets

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An animal behaviorist shares common issues and how to treat

This article was updated on 8/19/2022.



To properly treat patients, veterinary professionals must rule out all possibilities of what the underlying issue could be. If diagnostic testing has been completed with no medical issue identified, it may be a behavioral issue. Where do you start when it comes to treating behavior in felines, canines, and exotic animals? Amy Pike, DVM, DACVB, IAABC-CABC, co-owner of 2 Animal Behavior Wellness Center locations in Virginia, shared common behavior issues she sees in practice and how to help manage them, for the pet and client, with dvm360®.


Often, the expressions “just a naughty cat” and “my cat is mean” are expressed to veterinary professionals when faced with a feline suffering from a behavioral issue. The main feline issue Pike treats is inappropriate elimination, or what she refers to as unwanted elimination. Because this issue is also linked to something medical, veterinary professionals must rule out any underlying issues before investigating a potential behavioral cause.

“Anytime [the clinic is] treating a behavior issue, it is very much a combination of ruling out any sort of medical concern [and] making sure there isn’t an underpinning of urinary tract disease or kidney disease contributing to the unwanted elimination,” Pike said. “Once we have ruled out everything medical, we get backed into this behavioral corner. We can do a combination of management techniques, behavior modification, [and] potentially medication or products to help decrease fear, anxiety, and stress.”


Canine treatments are like feline treatments, but the issues dogs face are different. For example, the most common canine behavioral issues Pike treats at her clinic are anxiety and aggression toward humans and other dogs.

“Once we have ruled out everything that could possibly be contributing medically, then we can manage the situation by avoidance tactics and techniques. We do behavior modification to try and teach the dog an alternate incompatible behavior or teach the dog that these things are not so scary. Oftentimes, we use medication and products to decrease fear, anxiety, and stress that might be contributing,” Pike said.

With the increase of pets during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pike noted an uptick in behavior issues or concerns from pet parents. When owners were home with pets, they gave their pet’s daily life a closer look. Once everything began to open again, anxiety appeared to increase in pets, especially those adopted during quarantines.

“The other very common [issue] I have seen, especially in our dog patients, is an increase in separation anxiety-related behaviors once owners resumed a more normal lifestyle, as well as an increase in fear-based aggression toward people and other dogs. [This was] probably because they were not able to socialize or interact normally during the initial stages of the pandemic,” Pike said.

Access to veterinary behaviorists

Not every clinic has a behaviorist, leaving some veterinary professionals with limited or no access. But there are options, according to Pike such as attending as much continuing education as possible. Access to care through telemedicine or consulting with veterinary behavior specialists can also help with compliance for clients.

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