Behavioural Issues in Pets

by Angela Hickey | 3 min read  July 18th, 2019

Many reports from Animal Shelters record problem behaviours as the main cause of pets being surrendered by their owners. It is very important that as prospective pet parents we learn about the species and breed we plan to share our home with and are prepared to provide for the behavioural needs of our new pet.


Pup ripped cusion

Get to Know Your Pet

Understanding what your pet’s natural tendencies are, and training them to adjust to the limitations of a human lifestyle is important. For example, dogs naturally love to chew; so they need to be trained to only chew appropriate items (their chew toys) and not furniture! Cats should be trained to only urinate in litter trays when indoors to avoid them marking territory with their urine.

Socialising Your Pet

Dogs and cats have a short window to get used to their environment through exposure in the early part of their lives. During this period, they can learn to accept people, experiences, sounds, smells, etc. as ‘normal’. Any novel experience after this time has the potential to raise their stress levels and push them into a ‘fight or flight’ reaction.

If choosing a puppy or kitten through a breeder, it’s very important to ensure that it has been adequately socialised by the breeder to normal day to day life in a human household. Continue to expose your young pet to a variety of objects, transport, people, places, other animals, etc. while they are still young enough to learn to cope with novel experiences.

When adopting a pet, animal shelters will make every effort to assess behaviour and train pets to prepare them for a home environment that will work for them. Older pets tend not to adapt so readily and may experience fear leading to aggression so will need to be matched with a person who will understand them and accept some limitations to their behaviour in the early stages. They may need an adult only home, or a man/woman only home, or no other pets, based on their history. Knowing about any traumas or neglect they have suffered will also help you to avoid stressful situations for them. They can slowly be introduced to new experiences with care and reward based training.

Predatory Instincts

Both dogs and cats have had to adapt their natural behaviours to accommodate to living with humans. They are both social predator species, which means that they are ‘programmed’ to search, stalk, chase, bite/hold/shake/kill, and eat prey. Providing games which involve these behaviours helps to burn off that ‘predatory’ energy, helping to prevent behaviour problems. It can also help to walk dogs daily and to chase balls, smell and sniff, engage with other dogs, etc.

Indoor cats need enrichment through play with owners, puzzle feeders, scratching posts, and food on different levels to encourage climbing. Cats feel safer at a height, looking down to assess their environment. It also helps them to exercise, and satisfies their natural urge to climb.

Common Behavioural Issues in Dogs

  • Fear, anxiety and phobia related problems (e.g. separation anxiety, fear of fireworks)
  • Compulsive disorders (e.g. tail chasing, granulomas [excessive licking causing skin problems])
  • Aggression problems – towards humans and other dogs
  • Toileting problems/house training
  • Inadequate training and miscellaneous problems (e.g. barking, attention seeking, destructiveness)

Common Behavioural Issues in Cats

  • Fear, anxiety, and phobias
  • Compulsive disorders (e.g. over-grooming leading to skin disease)
  •  House soiling and marking
  • Aggression problems

Treatment of Behavioural Issues

A change in behaviour in your pet or persistent unwanted behaviours needs to be tackled as early as possible. Your vet will usually be your first port of call. It is important to rule out any underlying physical cause for a change in your pet’s mood or behaviour. It may be caused by depression, anxiety or irritability due to pain, nausea, infection, or another health issue.

Your vet can perform a full physical exam and, if necessary, follow up with blood tests or imaging to achieve an accurate diagnosis. If it becomes clear that there is no physical cause, your vet may refer you to a Behavioural Specialist.

A thorough investigation of the problem by the behaviourist may uncover a source of stress in the pet’s life that can be modified with the cooperation of the family members.

Pet appeasing pheromones can be introduced into the home to reduce stress. In more serious cases, there are also medications that may be prescribed. This will help to calm things down enough to allow for re-training and behaviour modification to be successful.

Resolving a behavioural issue could be life saving for your pet, so don’t delay in seeking help.


This guidance is for general information purposes only.


Did you know? Consultations with Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourists, and certain training aids that they recommend as part of a behaviour modification programme, are included under treatment cover on your Allianz Pet Insurance policy.

Learn more about Allianz Pet Insurance cover and restrictions.

Allianz p.l.c. is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland. Standard acceptance criteria and policy conditions apply.


Information correct as of date of publishing. This blog will not be updated or edited so the information may become outdated.

Angela Hickey
Allianz in-house vet and qualified psychotherapist.