Behaviour Problems in Small Animals: Practical Advice for the Veterinary Team
Behavioural medicine is an important branch of both human and veterinary medicine. When we are unwell friends or family members may notice that we have become moody, irritable or depressed, while work col-leagues may pick up on a drop in our performance or concentration and these behavioural, rather than physical signs may be the reason that medical assistance is sought. Once we have been successfully treated our mood often lifts and our behaviour returns to normal. In some circumstances we may consider it perfectly acceptable to use illness as an excuse for our own bad behaviour while in others we may be acutely aware of the need to mask our illness and put on a show of strength in order to conceal our vulnerabilities.
In a veterinary context things are not so different and when companion animals are ill they often obtain medical help primarily because their owner has noticed a change in their behaviour. Owners often refer to general signs of illness such as mood changes, irritability and depression and as vets we are frequently presented with animals that are reportedly unwell on the basis of these general signs. It is up to us to investigate the cause. In other cases more specific medical symptoms may be reported, such as polydypsia and lameness, but these are merely behavioural adaptations that enable the animal to continue to function despite the presence of pathology, so once again behavioural medicine is involved.
The expression of signs of illness is very dependent on the ethology of the species and in a social species, such as the dog, it can be potentially risky to show signs of vulnerability that might affect rank within the group, so signs of illness are often concealed. One possible result of this is that the ill individual may become more aggressive in order to deter competition that may reveal weakness. In companion dogs this might trans-late into increased aggressive reactions towards other dogs in the home, unfamiliar dogs met on a walk, children or the adult owner. Direct signs of the physical cause of the change in aggressiveness may be suppressed, but there is still a very obvious change in behaviour and this may be the only reason why an owner approaches the veterinary surgeon for advice.
In this book we have adopted a particular style and lay-out that we hope will make it more accessible for readers in a busy practice environment. For example, key information on problem prevention and immediate advice to give to clients is placed into easily located text boxes within each section. We deliberately chose not to break up the text with references because we wanted the text to be easily read but further reading suggestions are included for those who wish to expand their behavioural knowledge and look at some of the primary research in this fascinating field.