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A dog's bite may be worse than its bark -- especially if the pooch isn't feeling well. A new study has determined that dogs brought to a veterinary behavior clinic for biting children most often didn't have a previous history of biting. The research, which was conducted by a team of experts from the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, found that about half of the 111 dogs in the study had preexisting medical conditions that may have triggered the lash out.
These Medical ailments that triggered lashing out included hip dysplasia (and the associated arthritic pain), compromised vision, itchiness and ear pain, says one of the study's authors, Ilana R. Reisner, DVM, PhD, DACVB, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Reisner cautions that the association between bad behavior and illness in half of the dogs in the study doesn't imply that medical problems were the cause of the bad behavior. Some dogs are aggressive, and that needs to be treated as a behavioral issue. But veterinary experts say it's quite common for canines that have never shown any aggressive traits to snap, bite and show other signs of agitation when they are ill -- and particularly when they have chronic conditions.
Since your pet can't speak, here's how you can read the signs that something is physically wrong with your dog before it, too, may snap.
Signs That Your Dog Is Ill
Most people can recognize when a canine is sick to its stomach because it may leave behind telltale visible evidence, but other ailments are much harder to detect. In addition to physical symptoms, you should look out for behavioral signs. There are two main categories of behavior that can signal red flags:
Steps To Prevent Bad Behavior
Many dogs would never bite, snap or growl at humans, Dr. Beaver says. Like numerous other behaviors, it depends on the individual pooch, its inherent temperament, and even the background of the pet. If the dog was rescued from an abusive situation, you may not know whether the pup will respond with aggression to pain. Here are some steps that you can take to try to prevent a situation from ever getting that far.
Reisner says that her research on children who are bitten by dogs holds some important messages for dog owners -- and parents, in particular. Illness can increase the risk of aggressive behavior in dogs, even those with no predisposition to aggression. "When they're not feeling well, they need to be treated with some extra caution," she says. "Leave a dog alone if it's setting itself apart or moves away to the other side of the room. Don't let a child interact with the dog. And, if the child is too young to listen to those guidelines, put up a gate." Both dog and child may not appreciate the temporary solution, but they'll be better off because of it.
Photo: Corbis Images
Elizabeth Wasserman, a Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer, has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.
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