Unravelling Reactivity: The Connection Between a Dog's Health and Behaviour

Posted On Oct 29, 2023 |

Unravelling Reactivity

For years, we've often viewed our dogs' medical and behavioural issues as separate matters. If our dogs showed signs of physical distress, such as lethargy, altered eating habits, or unexplained discomfort, we would rush them to the vet. On the other hand, when faced with behavioural problems like excessive barking, destructive tendencies, or sudden aggression, we often attribute these to training issues. However, a growing body of research has shed light on the undeniable connection between a dog's health and their behaviour. It is now widely accepted that a dog’s behaviour can be totally or partially caused by underlying health conditions In this blog, we'll explore this fascinating link.


Detecting Health Issues in Dogs

Detecting when a dog is feeling unwell can sometimes prove to be challenging as dogs can often be very good at hiding it. However, there are times when detecting a dog's discomfort becomes a bit easier. This is because dogs, like us, exhibit noticeable changes when something isn't quite right. These changes serve as our window into their health and wellbeing and should be considered as important signals.

These telltale signs of a dog's discomfort may manifest as changes in appetite. A dog that's not feeling well might show disinterest in their favourite treats or meals, or conversely, exhibit an increase in hunger. Similarly, changes in toileting habits can be indicative of a problem. Frequent urination or difficulty during bowel movements might be signs of a medical issue.

Another significant indicator is shifts in sleep patterns. Dogs are known for their love of naps and a consistent sleep routine, so any sudden change in their sleep habits should raise concerns. Excessive scratching, vomiting, or diarrhoea are also warning signs that something is amiss.

Perhaps one of the most telling signs is the dog's withdrawal from activities they once enjoyed. If your typically energetic and playful dog suddenly becomes disinterested in their favourite activities, walks, or interactions, it's a strong indicator that they are not feeling well. In essence, any change in your dog's behaviour should serve as a potential sign that they are feeling unwell.


A Common Behavioural Trigger

Pain is one of the most common causes of behavioural problems in dogs. A study by Daniel Mills and colleagues (2020) found 28 to 82% of 100 behavioural cases involved some form of painful condition. Behavioural problems that have been linked to pain include defensive behaviours, house soiling, attention seeking behaviours, compulsive type behaviours, fearful reactions, hiding, pica, destructiveness, resource guarding, decrease in physical activity, aggression, problems sleeping and refusal to go in walks These findings highlight the profound influence of pain on a dog's behaviour.


The Challenge for Veterinarians

Detecting pain and underlying medical conditions in dogs is a challenging task for veterinarians because dogs lack the ability to describe or indicate the source of their pain, unlike humans. Often, there are no visible clinical signs of illness apart from behavioural changes. As guardians, we play an important role in observing and identifying these subtle changes, highlighting the importance of sharing our observations with veterinary professionals.


Taking Action

If your dog presents with a new or existing behavioural problem, the first step is to schedule a veterinary health check. This health check is important to identify and treat any underlying medical conditions before implementing a training plan. A comprehensive support plan may include collaboration with professionals such as veterinarians, physiotherapists, hydrotherapists, and a behaviourist to provide the care and support your dog needs. By taking this proactive approach, we ensure that the root causes of a dog's behavioural changes, which may be linked to hidden health issues, are effectively managed, ultimately promoting the overall wellbeing of our canine companions.