Understanding changes in your dog's behavior

You probably know your dog better than you know some of your friends. You can tell how they’re feeling and what they want by the subtlest behavior cues. But when should you start to worry?

So, you definitely take note when your dog’s behavior starts to change – it sets your internal alarm bells off and you wonder what could be wrong. You’re right to have these suspicions. Canines with stable home lives don’t suddenly change their personality and habits without good reason.

Your pup’s behavior is a window into their health. If you observe a distinct change, it might be time to do a little research into what might be going on inside. To get you started, here are a few common behaviors that may be signs of health issues.

Loss of appetite

You know exactly how much your dog eats, what his favorite treats are and when he wants more. That’s why some of the first behavioral changes owners notice are related to eating. When your once-insatiable pup only takes a few bites of his dinner before cuddling up in his bed, you rightfully wonder what’s up. But, before you get too worried, you should realize that it doesn’t always indicate a health issue.

A decreased appetite could be related to several, minor issues like changes in environment, introductions of new food or recent vaccinations. This is just one of the reasons I don’t actually recommend vaccinating your dog. Give it a few days, observe closely and don’t jump to any conclusions. If the behavior continues, it’s always best to let a holistic vet do a physical exam to rule out illness.

While it may be nothing serious, your dog’s lowered appetite could signal serious illnesses like cancer, infections, dental problems, or issues with the liver or kidney. If you suspect a medical problem, your best bet is to visit your holistic veterinarian to learn more.

Excessive thirst

If you’ve ever watched your dog drink water, you know it’s a pretty messy affair. It can often result in a small swimming pool around the water bowl. So, it can be a bit of a challenge to know just how much ends up in their mouth and how much ends up on the floor. However, you can usually tell if your pup is visiting the water bowl more than usual or if you have to fill it up more frequently. Regardless of the cause, you should know that dehydration is very serious – if you think your dog is severely dehydrated, don’t delay in getting to a medical professional.

At the worst, heightened thirst could be the sign of illnesses such as diabetes, liver or kidney disease, diarrhea, fever or infection. On the other hand, the cause could actually be traditional medications – some common ones that increase thirst are drugs that treat heart failure, seizures and allergies. Fortunately, there are several herbal medications on the market which don’t cause side effects.

If none of these reasons are behind the thirst, it might be that the food you’re giving your dog is too high in sodium. Just like you, your dog will be thirstier after eating salty foods. If that’s the case, consider transitioning to a raw diet or opting for foods without added sodium.

Urination patterns

If you’re like most dog owners, your life is somewhat ruled by your pup’s urination needs, so it’s pretty obvious when things change in any way. One of the issues that causes owners the most stress is when well-trained dogs begin urinating in the house. First, you should rule out environmental issues to make sure that the behavior isn’t due to new members of the household or a move to new home. If there have been no changes, you should begin considering possible medical causes. Some common health issues that result in indoor urination include: kidney disease, Cushing’s Disease, diabetes, bladder and bacterial infections. A loss of bladder control is also quite common as dogs age and become incontinent.

If your furry friend isn’t doing his business on the floor, but just seems like he needs to go out more than usual, this is referred to as polyuria. Like urinating in the house, high production of urine is often also caused by renal issues such as kidney disease, or congenital problems like diabetes. As with most changes in behavior, you should examine your dog’s diet. For example, foods that are low in protein can result in more urine than normal.

Social changes

Is there anything more worrying than when your dog starts changing the way she relates to you, your family or other animals? It’s highly alarming to see a sweet, docile canine suddenly turn aggressive or antisocial. Rest assured that there is probably an underlying cause that can be addressed. The first thing you should do is assess the environment and ask yourself if anything has changed. And, remember, something that may seem insignificant to you may be very irritating or frightening for your dog.

If the environment has remained completely stable, think about whether or not your dog is in pain. Does she growl when you pet certain areas? Does she no longer venture up or downstairs because those movements hurt? The last possible reason could just be aging – like people, older dogs can develop dementia that leaves them confused and afraid, resulting in behavioral changes.

Sleeping habits

When you’re under the weather, all you want to do is pull the covers up and snooze the day away. Your dog is the same. All animals have an instinct to heal themselves through rest. If your pup seems to be napping longer than she used to, it could be because she’s not feeling so well.

One of the most common causes of lethargy is infection, which can be anything from heart worms to respiratory. Besides possible heart disease or diabetes, it’s also commonplace for older dogs not to display the youthful energy they once had.

Dogs don’t differ from humans in that their behavior often reflects their feelings. You’re not paranoid to worry if your four-legged friend’s behavior or daily habits dramatically change. While you should never assume the worst, it’s always better to be safe than sorry if you suspect a medical issue. A holistic veterinarian can quickly put your mind at ease and help recommend the best course of action if anything is amiss.