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Common Behavior Problems

Repetitive Behaviors - Tail Chasing, Licking, Over-grooming, Chasing Shadows or Lights

Behaviorists call these behaviors stereotypies; veterinarians prefer the term compulsive disorders. These are behaviors that an animal does over and over again, in an identical pattern. A familiar example is animals confined in a zoo who pace back and forth in their pens. Often, these enclosures are too small and the animals don’t have enough to do.

Stereotypies in pets can develop for a variety of reasons. This is one problem for which you should absolutely have your dog or cat thoroughly evaluated by your veterinarian, and perhaps by a veterinary neurologist, dermatologist, ophthalmologist or specialist in internal medicine. Your pet may have a skin infection, a vision problem, or something wrong with his nervous system.

Stereotypies can also develop for behavioral reasons. A common cause is stress or conflict. Perhaps your pet is being harassed or bullied by another pet. Maybe your pet has just joined your family and is stressed from trying to adapt to his new living situation. Moving to a new house can also be a stressor that can trigger a stereotypy as can an unpredictable lifestyle.

Or, like confined animals in a zoo, these behaviors can also develop if your pet’s environment and lifestyle isn’t meeting his behavioral needs. Perhaps your dog or cat is left alone a lot, or doesn’t have enough to do to occupy his time.

Behavioral researchers have found a strong genetic component to some of these behaviors, such as tail chasing in bull terriers.

Once medical problems are ruled out, these problems can be successfully treated using a combination of behavior modification and drug therapy. They are not simple problems, and definitely require individual consultation.

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