Animal behaviour can sometimes be a bit of a puzzle to us humans – it’s all too easy to expect animals to act like tiny humans, and get frustrated when they don’t. Very often when we see puppies or kittens come in for their first visits, or their vaccinations, their exasperated owners will describe them as “naughty” or “bad” for certain behaviours such as biting or weeing indoors.
The important thing to remember about animal behaviour is that they are not being deliberately naughty or bad; they’re just being animals! Puppies and kittens in particular are still learning what behaviour is acceptable in a human home, and might have a few “teething problems” along the way. But most of their behaviours aren’t inherently good or bad – they’re just part of their nature.
Animal behaviours can be broadly sorted into two categories:
Behavioural Problems: Behavioural problems are usually caused by mental health conditions such as OCD, aggression and anxiety (yes, our pets get these too!). Behavioural problems area real concern and need specialised veterinary help to resolve.
Problem Behaviours: These are the ones that usually get labelled as “naughty” – normal pet behaviours that pose a problem to the owner. Examples of problem behaviours include barking, urine marking, mouthing/biting and scratching furniture. These are particularly frustrating because trying to deter or punish an animal for these behaviours can lead to big problems.
Your pet is not behaving out of spite or to be deliberately naughty – they’re either learning (such as puppies that still occasionally toilet inside the house), reacting to stress or illness (such as cats that spray inside the house) or acting like normal animals. It may be a behaviour that causes issues for us, but it’s perfectly natural for our pets!
That being said, some problem behaviours can be a sign of a health problem, especially if your pet has never done that behaviour before. A cat that suddenly starts spraying on the drapes may have a urinary problem, for example, or a dog that suddenly barks more than usual may have a neurologic condition. If your pet has behaviours that are concerning you or causing an upset in your household it’s always worth checking in with your vet first before assuming your pet is just badly behaved. And for those behaviours that are natural for your pet but frustrating for you, we might be able to offer help as well!