Is your dog exhibiting unusual behaviors like hiding, being lethargic, and acting grumpier than usual? If so, there are a myriad of underlying health conditions that could directly affect your dog's behavior.
One of the most common underlying medical conditions of tired, irritable, less engaged dogs is a low circulating thyroid hormone. Most dogs that are hypothyroid show other easier to recognize symptoms like obesity, chronic skin infections, darkening of areas in the belly, excessive shedding, and a lower seizure threshold. Behavioral manifestations may fly under the radar but a dog that loses interest in walks seems less engaged and shows unusual aggression could also be hypothyroid. The good news is that this condition is easy to diagnose with a blood test and it is not difficult to treat since it involves oral supplementation with synthetic thyroid hormone.
Another medical condition that is fairly common in dogs ( especially seniors) yet harder to diagnose is a hyperactive adrenal gland also known as Cushing's disease. Dogs suffering from this condition will show excessive panting, anxiety, insomnia, house soiling, and irritability. Those clinical signs may be confused with chronic pain or other diseases. The best way to rule Cushing's out is by doing a blood test in which the resting cortisol is established, then the pet is injected with adrenal hormone and a later blood sample is taken post-injection. If the pet fails to suppress the amount of circulating cortisol then it has a hyperactive gland or tumor constantly flooding the system with cortisol. The treatment involves drugs that destroy the adrenals, in rare cases, surgery is needed.
Peripheral neuropathy is another medical condition that might cause behavioral signs like irritability, aggression, and self-mutilation. The nerves might be damaged and cause tingling sensations or pain along their pathways. Even damage to the spinal nerves could cause areas of the skin to be painful which causes the pet to be defensive, to self-mutilate, and be irritable. Your veterinarian can palpate your pet and look for lesions in the spinal nerves that innervate the areas of the skin being mutilated. Using technology like infrared cameras is a quick way to see if there are areas of inflammation in the dermatomes and spinal nerves. The treatment should include laser therapy since the laser can regenerate the nerves. Your pet might need pharmaceuticals like gabapentin which are great to control neuropathic pain and they also have a positive effect in decreasing their anxiety. Our practice is integrative so we often perform a spinal manipulation exam similar to a chiropractic exam and we would adjust anything that is misaligned. Using acupuncture we can control pain and help recover neurological functions. In most cases, we send natural herbal formulas that help with inflammation and pain.
Regardless of the cause, any sudden change in behavior or activity level of your furry friends needs to be explored. Oftentimes, behavioral changes are outward manifestations of an underlying disease process and the sooner we intervene the sooner your pet returns to its happy, active self!