Most dog owners know that training and extensive socialization are vital components of good pet parenting, so many dog owners are shocked when their formerly well-behaved dog starts acting like some sort of crazed maniac, destroying things in the house, or becoming aggressive. Behavioral problems in dogs can indicate underlying health problems, particularly if the bad behavior comes on suddenly and out of nowhere in a formerly well-behaved dog. Here are the most common health problems that can cause bad behavior:
Gum Disease and Tooth Decay
If your dog has suddenly started chewing on everything like she's a puppy again, she may be trying to tell you that her mouth hurts. Just like babies with teething rings, chewing on random household objects can help dogs cope with tooth pain. If your dog suddenly becomes a compulsive chewer, there's a good chance there's something wrong with her teeth and gums. Because oral health can affect overall canine health, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away.
Just like with humans, thyroid problems can cause a host of unusual behavior in dogs. When the thyroid malfunctions, your dog could become either hyperactive or lethargic, morbidly obese or frighteningly skinny, and incredibly friendly or highly aggressive. Given the diverse array of behavioral changes thyroid problems can cause, the real key is to know your dog's underlying personality. If your previously calm dog suddenly becomes an aggressive, hyperactive mess, her thyroid may be acting up. Similarly, if your free-spirited puppy is suddenly lethargic and diffident, it's time to call the vet.
Hip and Joint Problems
A few years ago, the very first sign I had that my German Shepherd was suffering from hip dysplasia was her disobedience. She's the sort of dog with a respect for rules that would make the most authoritarian stickler in the world proud. She even nips at my other dog when I tell him to do something and he doesn't! So when I told her to sit and she looked at me defiantly, I knew something was wrong. A trip to her vet later revealed that sitting had become painful for her. Joint problems often make specific movements painful for dogs, and one of the first signs of this may be a refusal to obey specific commands the dog previously had no problem listening to. If your dog suddenly stops sitting, staying, or laying down, it may be that the pain in her joints is overriding her eagerness to please you.
Internal Pain and Organ Failure
Perhaps one of the most tragic facts of life with dogs is that, at the end of their life, dogs often undergo a radical personality change, and with at least some dogs, this personality change can make it difficult to remember the good times. Aggression is terrifying, and if your dog is suddenly showing signs of aggression after years of a mild-mannered disposition, it's an almost certain sign that something is medically wrong. Organ failure and pain in the stomach or chest can cause a dog to become terrified of being touched, resulting in aggressive behavior. If your dog suddenly starts behaving aggressively toward you, don't write him off as a bad dog. Recognize that he may be in pain and seek the help of your veterinarian.
Dogs can't talk to us and tells us where they're hurting, but they can communicate. Communication comes in many forms, and behavior is often a valuable clue to what your dog is thinking and feeling. It's important to avoid ignoring any behavioral changes in your pet, and if your pet seems off or is acting out of character, call your vet.