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Risk Analysis of Behavior Problems: Environmental Factors 3

Environmental factors play a role in decisions owners face with problem pets

M. Bain
Source: M. Bain

By Melissa J. Bain, DVM, DACVB, MS, DACAW, University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Clinical Animal Behavior Service, Davis, CA.

Many things affect an owner’s decision regarding the risk that they will take when making a decision about a pet with a problem behavior. In this blog post we will address the factors related to the environment.

People and pets in the household

Children, elderly, infirm people, and other pets MUST be kept safe, both physically as well as emotionally. The presence of any of these factors makes for a poorer prognosis. Also, other pets need care and time with their owners, and behavior modification of the pet with the problem can interfere with that.

Cats in multi-cat households are more likely to urine mark. Feeding outside/feral cats can also contribute to this problem, and if an owner is reluctant to stop this practice, the prognosis for resolution of urine marking is worse.

The people living in the house have to buy into the program of working with the pet. It could be due to biases, or it could be due to a broken bond with one of the owners.

Location of the home/type of home

Do the owners live on 2 acres of fenced property in the country, or do they live in a studio apartment in the city? Can the dog go outside to eliminate? Or does it have to be leashed multiple times per day to be taken outside to eliminate, encountering noises, people, and other dogs? The neighbors and community also can affect the decision, especially if there is are certain emotions around specific breeds like Pit Bull-type dogs.

Cats require a good amount of space per cat, and the more cats that are living in a house, the more likely there will be a cat with inappropriate elimination. Depending on toileting preferences, some cats prefer carpeting, while others prefer hardwood, and the presence of one or the other can affect the prognosis.

Predictability of triggers

Owners often claim that they cannot predict when an animal will display the unwanted behavior, but when asked specific questions, often can identify what happened before the animal displayed the behavior. However, it gets very problematic if they truly cannot identify the trigger, or if the trigger remains relatively similar, the animal reacts only some of the time, leaving them to wonder “when” will it actually happen.

Avoidability of triggers

The avoidability of the triggers is important. Some things are avoidable, such as aggression just around a rawhide or only at the veterinarian’s office. It is very problematic if the triggers are unavoidable, such as petting, any type of food object dropped on the ground (especially if there are children in the house), looking at, walking by in the house, or whatever else is not avoidable for a specific owner.

It is important to seek help for pets with problem behaviors from a professional such as a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. They can be helpful in diagnosing the problem and giving you a prognosis for the outcome.

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