I remember when my dogs took turns laying their heads on my pregnant belly. Even our cat would partake in this activity, which soon became a daily routine. My husband and I found great joy in this. Both animal lovers, we prayed that our unborn child would follow in our footsteps and enjoy God’s creations. However, I did notice a change in our pets’ behavior the larger my belly grew. They seemed to become more protective, never leaving my side, but never exhibiting aggression either.
Veterinarians deal with aggressive animals on a daily basis and the reasons for pet aggression can be numerous. Extensive research has been conducted leading to multiple theories about why animals misbehave. Yet, there is still so much to learn about pet aggression. We cannot ask unruly pets “What is making you upset?” We can only observe and study their actions and do our best to make sense of their inappropriate behaviors.
Many clients seek my advice about their pet’s aggression. My first task is to conduct a thorough examination to rule out physical causes for bad behavior such as diminished vision or hearing, or undiagnosed pain. Once I am convinced the pet is not experiencing any physical reasons for behavioral changes, I then counsel the pet owner about options to cope with their pet’s aggression. These might include changing the pet’s behavior through proper obedience training, an environmental or diet change, or medication.
Sadly, some pet owners have become afraid of their own animals, and many of them, like me, have children in their home. I have been asked by parents of small children on several occasions, “What would you do if you had an aggressive animal in your home?” The question regarding aggressive animals in a household with children was always hard for me to answer, because until recently I did not have children.
It is hard to put yourself in someone else's shoes if you have no experience with their challenges. Of course, I have always been straight forward and honest with my clients. I have and always will offer them every option available to help them seek the choice that they are most comfortable with.
Veterinarians are charged with helping and protecting all animals. However, our higher responsibility is to protect the welfare of people, as well as pets. My personal goal is and always will be to do what is best for the animal AND its family. I am never judgmental, as I constantly realize every human-animal bond is different.
I can now say that as a first time mother with pets, answering questions on aggressive animal behavior in regards to children is easier. My husband and I recently found ourselves in the moccasins of my clients who own aggressive pets. This experience was truly eye-opening when it was in my own household.
A parent’s instinct is always to put the child first and protect them no matter what. However, this may be easier said than done, as most, like me, consider pets as family members. Needless to say, any decision about a pet’s well-being should always be made with the deepest consideration and utmost concern for the pet as well as its family.
Speaking from experience and the heart, I know bad pet behavior should never be shrugged off nor taken lightly. Many are the avenues for coping with pet aggression. If you are dealing with an aggressive animal in your home, with or without the presence of children, please seek the advice of your veterinarian.
Author: Dr. Tracy Strauer