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Behavior And Nutrition

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Behavior Issues

Behavioral Consultations

At Patton Veterinary Hospital, we can help you with many behavior dilemmas, from litter box issues to house training, separation anxiety and aggression. Sometimes these can be fairly simple to resolve, such as adding more litter boxes or cleaning them more often. However, separation anxiety can be very complicated and may take several visits and much time and patience on your part. We offer behavior modification and medication to help relieve your dog’s anxiety.

Both litter box concerns in cats and aggression in dogs can sometimes be caused by physical problems, so a thorough physical exam is always the best place to start. Sometimes what people think is a behavior issue is actually just a poor match between pet and owner. Of course your Jack Russell is going to bark when you’re gone and bounce off the walls if you do not keep both his little body and his mind occupied. Lots of walks and playtime, as well as interactive toys, are necessary if you are going to keep your Jack and yourself happy and sane! These are just a few examples of some of the behavior problems we address – we’d be happy to help you with a wide variety of issues.

Separation Anxiety

Some dogs, and occasionally, cats, become very anxious when separated from their owners.  Separation anxiety can cause a variety of destructive behaviors including urination or defecation in the house, excessive drooling, destruction of objects, furniture, walls and doors, howling or barking and escape or attempted escape from crates or from the home.  Pets with severe separation anxiety can injure themselves and cause significant damage to a household.  This problem is not merely caused by lack of training but is an abnormal response to being left alone.  Help is available for these pets. The goal of treatment is to decrease the underlying anxiety and teach the dog (or cat) to tolerate being independent of his or her owner.  A variety of treatments and behavioral modification exercises are often necessary to improve separation anxiety in dogs.  Please contact our office if you feel your pet may benefit from a consultation about separation anxiety.  More information can also be found at

Inappropriate Urination or Defecation Outside the Litter Box

One of the most common and most frustrating problems we deal with are cats that go to the bathroom outside their litter boxes.  Inappropriate elimination may occur for a variety of reasons including: not having a clean litter pan, conflict with other cats or dogs in the house, preference for a specific location or type of surface or substrate, other changes or stressors in the household and medical problems such as constipation, urinary tract infection or bladder stones.  It is very important never to scold, strike or punish your cat for inappropriate elimination as it may often worsen the problem.

There are a number of steps that can be taken to correct inappropriate elimination in cats.  After first ruling out and correcting any medical problems, we may suggest a variety of changes to the house and, sometimes may recommend medication for your cat. If your cat is urinating or defecating outside the litter box, please make an appointment to determine if it is a medical or a behavioral issue so your cat can receive appropriate treatment.  More information is available at

Link to Litter Box Rules???

Destructive Scratching in Cats

 Scratching is a normal behavior in cats that serves several purposes including sharpening the claws, marking territory, and stretching or exercise.  But scratching furniture or curtains can certainly cause a lot of damage.  Rather than attempting to curtail all scratching, a better solution would be to give your cat an appropriate outlet for scratching, teaching him or her what and where to scratch.  A variety of different types of scratching posts and pads are available so you may need to use some trial and error to see what your cat likes.  Keeping the toenails trimmed may also decrease damage caused by scratching.  We offer counseling on various methods of dealing with destructive scratching behavior and can also discuss whether or not surgical declaw is a consideration for your cat. 

More information is available at

Puppy and Kitten Play-Biting

Puppies and kittens explore their world with their mouths much like babies do.  Sometimes, play can get a bit rough and puppies and kittens may try to bite while playing.  While it seems cute and harmless to see a tiny pup or kitten chewing on someone’s finger, this type of play can turn destructive or even aggressive as the pet grows and play biting should be discouraged.  Having lots of toys for your pet to chew on and substituting a toy for you hand during play may decrease this unwanted behavior, but, if you are having issues with a pup or kitten that plays a little too rough, talk to one of our veterinarians about how to curb or correct unwanted play biting.  More information can be found at

Eating Poop

Many dogs like to eat poop.  They may eat their own stool or the stool of other dogs or cats.  While there could be an underlying medical condition like maldigestion or severe anemia, in most cases, it is a behavioral issue.  It may be simply an investigative or play behavior, it may be a way to remove another dog’s scent from territory, or some dogs will eat stool if they have gone to the bathroom in the house as a way to “remove the evidence” especially if they have been punished for eliminating in the house.  While it is not inherently harmful to the dog, it is an undesirable behavior and may cause parasite infestations and other issues.  There are supplements and behavioral training that may help to eliminate this problem.  Contact us or make an appointment for your dog for more information. 

Nuisance Barking in Dogs

Dogs bark as a means of communication.  Sometimes this can be beneficial as when a dog barks to alert his family to a fire or an intruder.  But, barking can also be a nuisance behavior, especially if the dog barks incessantly or at inopportune times.  Dogs may bark if they are being territorial, if they are sounding an alarm, if they are seeking attention, as a compulsive behavior or as a way to express excitement or frustration.  There are multiple training techniques and non-harmful training devices that can be used to correct nuisance barking.  Please contact us for more information on dealing with excessive barking.  More help can also be found at

Digging Dogs

Dogs love to dig for many different reasons.  Dogs may be trying to escape an enclosure, searching for prey, digging because of excess energy or boredom or digging just because they enjoy it!  All that digging can damage your garden, yard or flower beds.  There are ways to either limit your dog from digging or create a specific area in your yard to which you can direct your pooch to dig.  Contact us for more information on excessive digging.


 Dogs who are excited often jump up to greet people.  This is a natural behavior and some owners enjoy this type of greeting, but not everyone enjoys dogs putting their paws on them, and, some large dogs who do this may knock over young children or elderly persons.  Teaching your dog manners, including not jumping up unless asked, may be very helpful.  Teaching the dog “off,”  “down,” or asking her to sit often goes a long way, but, for stubborn jumpers, other behavior techniques and even special “no-jump” harnesses may help.  Contact our office for more information if you are having trouble keeping your pup from jumping on people.


Dogs and cats can display aggressive behavior for a variety of different reasons including pain, fear, possessive or protective behavior, dislike of another animal and many other reasons.  Some forms of aggression may be justified or normal depending on the circumstance.  Other types of aggression are out of proportion to the circumstance in which they occur and are unacceptable. Aggression is usually defined as growling or hissing, snapping, lunging, or attempting to bite.  We must also be careful though to distinguish normal but rough or vocal play behavior in dogs and cats from true aggression.  Because this is such a broad and varied topic, it is beyond the scope of what can be discussed here.  If you suspect your pet may be showing signs of inappropriate aggression, or, if you are unsure if your pet’s behavior is aggressive behavior vs. normal behavior, please contact our office for a behavioral consultation.  We will attempt to rule out any medical causes of aggression, try to characterize your pet’s aggression and may either suggest a personal behavioral trainer or get you proper training information on how to deal with specific types of aggression.  Anti-anxiety medications are also sometimes used to decrease aggression in dogs and cats.  Most forms of aggression can be managed so do not feel your pet is beyond help without speaking to a veterinarian. 

More information can be found at

House Training

House training your new puppy or even an older dog is often the most time-consuming aspect of owning a new fur-baby.  There is no one right training method but consistency and positive reinforcement are key for most dogs.  Some dogs also pick up training quickly with little effort.  Others are a little slower to grasp the concept.  Most do not immediately give a signal that they need to go outside and it can take months to fully train a puppy.  Most pups are house-trained by the time they are six months old, but you should not consider your pup fully trained until he or she is a year of age. 

 Two big no-nos with training are that unless you actually see the pet in the act of going to the bathroom in the house, do not scold your dog if you find he has had an accident.  This will only serve to make him fearful and may cause confusion.  The other thing you should never do is rub the pet’s nose in the mess.  This is not an effective method of training or punishment and will not teach the dog anything.  Proper house training requires a lot of time and repetition and we can offer counseling on many different methods of training so you can choose what will work for you and your dog.  Please ask us about potty training your pooch at your puppy visit.  We can also offer tips for house training older dogs who may need a refresher course!  More information is available at  

Ask the Vet Submission Form

If you have a question that you would like answered by one of our veterinarians please complete the form below. Please allow 1-2 business days for a response.