Sudden behaviour changes: Is your pet telling you something?

If there is one thing most of our clients have in common, it is that they view their pets as members of their family.  They give us love, make us laugh and keep us company.  This close relationship sometimes leads us to believe that they really are human.  As a result, we often attribute their behaviour changes to personality quirks, and sometimes they are. However, when a behaviour change is sudden it is often an indication that an underlying medical issue may be to blame. This is especially true when no sudden environmental change (new pet, moving, etc.) accompanies the behaviour change.  Our pets are not able to tell us when they aren’t feeling well, and so it is important that we listen to the clues they are able to give us.  That is why we at the Guelph Animal Hospital would like to share with you some common behaviour changes to watch for in your furry family members that should not be dismissed. 

Changes in Urination


 A common complaint from clients is that a pet is urinating in the house. Most often, owners believe that this is a behavioural problem occurring because their pet is upset with them. However, the majority of instances where a pet who was previously good about using a litter box or going outside to pee suddenly begins urinating around the home can be explained medically. Often times the pet is suffering from a bladder infection, crystals or stones. In addition to inappropriate urination, changes in frequency/amount of urination can also signal a health problem, such as reduced kidney function or an impending urinary blockage, in your pet. These issues can all be assessed and treated by your veterinarian.

Changes in Eating/Drinking Habits

Has your dog recently started emptying their water bowl several times a day?  Has your cat refused to eat even the most tempting of wet foods, no matter what flavour you try?  Is your pet suddenly ravenous, no matter how often you feed them?  Any sudden change in eating or drinking habits should be taken seriously and evaluated by your veterinarian. These symptoms can be signs of kidney failure, pancreatitis, gastrointestinal blockage and dental disease.  In addition to signaling an underlying medical issue, your pet’s refusal to eat or drink can cause additional problems if not addressed quickly.  In cats, reduced calorie intake (be it from complete refusal to eat or reduced hunger) can lead to liver failure in as little as a few days.  Taking this change in behaviour seriously, and getting your pet to a veterinarian quickly, is always the best course of action.

Less Active/Playful

 As our pets age, they often become less active and playful than they were when they were younger.  While some decreased activity is to be expected, often times a less playful pet is suffering from some degree of arthritis or pain.  You may notice that your cat, which always slept on the back of the couch, now prefers a ground level bed.  Perhaps your dog sleeps on the floor when you are used to him warming your feet at the end of the bed. These are common signs that your pet is experiencing discomfort, and should be seen by their veterinarian.  Depending on the severity of your pet’s individual case, options for treatment may include food changes, supplements, pain control, acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments and/or laser treatments.  Your veterinarian can help reduce your pet’s discomfort and increase their activity, giving them the quality of life that they deserve as a beloved member of your family.


When our pets are not feeling well, many will try to disguise their pain or illness by hiding. If your normally outgoing pet begins to spend more and more time away from you, it is an indicator that they are not feeling well and should be seen by their veterinarian.

Inappropriate Defecation

Think your pet left you that special gift on your bathroom rug because you were late with dinner last night?  It’s possible that you have an especially vindictive dog, but it is more likely that they are not feeling well. Inappropriate defecation can be a sign of arthritis pain, inflammatory bowel disease or colon issues.  Before deciding that your pet is sending you a stinky message, you should bring them to your vet clinic for an exam to see if there is another explanation for their behaviour.

While this list contains some of the most common behaviour changes that are seen, it is important to have ANY sudden behaviour change in your pet evaluated.  Your pet may be unable to speak to you and explain what is wrong, but your veterinarian can use diagnostic tools (bloodwork, X-rays, urinalysis, etc.) to listen to what your pet is unable to verbalize.  If you suspect something may be going on, don’t hesitate to contact us, we’re here to help!

Krystal Boehm CCS

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