Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Healthy Pets

Font Size

Does Your Pet Need Therapy?

By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM

If you think your dog or cat has some bad habits, you’re not alone. “Ten to 15 percent of owners say that they have pet behavior issues,” says certified applied animal behaviorist Stephen L. Zawistowski, PhD, science adviser to the ASPCA.

But does your animal need therapy? Yes, if his behavior puts him or others in danger.

“Any time the safety or well-being of either the pet or human is in question, a professional should be brought in to determine the best course of action,” says certified dog behavior consultant Michael Shikashio. “It doesn't have to be as severe as aggression. An animal exhibiting 'quirky' behavior like excessive tail-chasing [could] be suffering from underlying issues.”

The first step is seeing your veterinarian. There may be an underlying medical issue that needs to be treated. If you decide to meet with a certified pet behavior professional, be prepared to really work with your animal to get the problem corrected.

“A pet owner shouldn't expect a quick fix,” Shikashio says.

These are some of the behavior issues common in cats and dogs:

Aggression

There are several reasons why a pet may become aggressive: He may be protective of his home or family; possessive of his food, bed or toys; fearful; or feel a need to be dominant.

In dogs, signs of aggression include growling, showing the teeth, charging, barking, snarling, snapping, nipping, and biting.

Going for a walk in the neighborhood provides so much stimulation in some dogs that it makes them feel more alert and aggressive. These are dogs that may benefit from "growl" classes, or reactive dog classes.

In these sessions, behaviorists put together two to four dogs in a controlled situation, to teach them social skills, Zawistowski says. The dogs and their owners are under strict supervision and given plenty of space. Each dog is slowly trained to be able to get closer to the other dogs without showing signs of aggression. These classes can help your pooch become more comfortable whenever other dogs or people are around. This will lead to more enjoyable walks for everyone.

An aggressive cat can bite and scratch. He may hiss, growl, howl, stare, flatten his ears, swish his tail or expose his teeth or claws.

Some cats don't like to be petted -- or petted for long periods of time. They may let you know by batting your hand away with a claw. Cats are territorial and may not want certain people or animals in their areas. Mother cats may act aggressively if they think their kittens are threatened. Other cats practice "redirected aggression" -- they may see another cat through a window, and scratch the people or animals that they can reach. Cats that are in pain, for any reason, can be aggressive.

If your cat is showing aggression and you can’t figure out why, you should have her checked out by your vet to see if something physical may be causing the behavior.  If pain is ruled out, a behaviorist who works with cats may be able to help.

Today on WebMD

Small dog large dog
Slideshow
boxer dog
Slideshow
 
Night stalking cat
Slideshow
puppy eating from bowl
Slideshow
 
Woman holding puppy
Article
Sad dog and guacamole
Slideshow
 
Siamese cat eating from bowl
Slideshow
cat on couch
Evaluator
 
Cat People vs Dog People Slideshow
Slideshow
Kitten playing
Quiz
 
Orange cat nuzzling woman
Slideshow
German shephard reading a book
Quiz