Martha Stewart Living Radio: The Radio Blog

Behavioral Problem or Medical Issue?

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Last week during the show, Lisa called from Arizona – she was looking for some advice to stop her 2-year-old, female, Pekingese from toileting on Lisa’s bed during the night. I encouraged Lisa to use management techniques-- specifically, put the dog in an adjoining room/bathroom with a baby gate where she can provide the dog with a comfortable place to sleep and a wee-wee pad for toileting.

One of the reasons I love hosting "It's A Dog's Life" is because my listeners love to share information and experiences to educate and help each other. And last week was no different-- following the show, I got an email from Michelle in Texas who was very concerned about my reply to Lisa. She said:


 I’ve been desperate to get a hold of you and couldn’t get through to the show last night. I am very upset at the advice you gave Lisa. The question you should have asked Lisa is, “is the dog toileting in her sleep?”…and the advice you should have given is, “talk to your vet.” It is possible that the dog has bladder over activity incontinence. I experienced the same with my Jack Russell terrier and my vet explained this as a complication from spaying which can be managed with a drug called Proin. I certainly hope you can correct this oversight.


Michelle, I'm very glad that you cared enough to share your experience and am sorry you were unable to get through. Thank you for following up with me.

I agree that recommending a thorough veterinarian check-up should always be considered to rule out any medical condition than might be presenting itself as a behavioral fact, I mention it very often during "It’s A Dog’s Life." I have also mentioned that dog owners should consider speaking to a qualified vet in regards to the use of Proin for urinary incontinence (during very recent shows).

Certainly suggesting to Lisa that she get a 'clean bill of health' from her vet would have been good additional advice on my part and could have benefited Lisa and her Peke as well.

Here are some common medical issues that may present themselves as behavioral issues and may be consideration for a visit to your veterinarian:

Urinary Disorders: May present themselves as ‘accidents’ but could be caused from bladder infections, urinary crystals, bladder stones, leaking, and urinary blockages.

Orthopedic Disorders/ Injuries: May present themselves as aggression (from pain), crying, ‘accidents,’ and lethargy but could be caused from arthritis, hip dysplasia, torn knee ligaments, back and neck pain, or painful joints.

Neurological Disorders: May present themselves as aggression (due to disorientation) or irrational behavior but could be caused from epilepsy, vestibular disease, Horner’s Syndrome, etc.

Cardiac Disorders: May present themselves as anxiety or lethargy, but could be caused from congestive heart failure, fluid retention, and cardiomiopathy.

Endocrine Disorders: May present themselves as anxiety, lethargy and/or aggression but could be caused from hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, Addison’s disease, and diabetes.

Dental Disease: May present itself as fearful of being touched (especially around the head & face), food guarding/aggression, lack of appetite but could be caused from inability to eat due to pain in teeth and gums from plaque, tartar, gingivitis, cavities, rotten/broken teeth, etc.

Comments (4)

  • We have a 7 year old Soft Coated Wheaton named Mercedes. My husband and I are 60 and my 89 year old mother lives with us. My husband works every day, and I am gone maybe 1 day a week, plus doing the normal errands and such. We live in the vicinity of Sun Valley, Idaho on 5 acres beautifully landscaped and have an invisible fence to protect Mercedes from chasing cars (she used to do that when a puppy).

    Mercedes has been the best dog, however over the last year has begun to become more reclusine and change her habits. For instance, if left in the house, she urinates on the carpet and poops by the door - even if we had just let her outside! She used to come and get me when she wanted out, but no longer does that.

    She also cannot travel in a car, even to the vet or groomer without getting very anxious, and its to the point of crying and hugging the door to ultimate pooping in the car. It excalated when she had eye surgery a year ago and she had to come home with a cone on her head and the cone seemed to really scare her and she got so upset in the car that she had diahrrea everywhere on the seats! I also take her to the groomer every other week, but that is getting very hard and the groomer is only 5 minutes or less from our house. I spoke to the vet about this and he has given me dog valium for her and it seems to calm her down in the car, but I am wondering if we will always have to do this - what do you think? But all in all she is much more comfortable in the car now, however makes me feel bad that I have to give it to her.

    We have had her since she was a puppy, yet at times she acts like she is abused. If you move quickly, she jumps like you are going to hit her, and to this day, she has not been hit, yet her personality seems to be rapidly changing. She seems unhappy...

    The vet says she is very healthy though and for that we are glad.

    As we evaluate our current circumstances, they are this:
    (1)my elderly mother lives with us and at times is gone. Mercedes loves her because she continually is feeding her from her plate when she eats and when mom is gone, Mercedes lays outside her door very sad.
    When we are away at work during the days, mother is not very good at letting Mercedes out at times, and when she does, Mercedes just stands at the door and does not go to the bathroom outside.

    (2) when Mercedes was a puppy she loved to chase the UPS truck, so we got an invisible fence in our yard to protect her and that has worked great. She stays within the boundaries. However, the last year, we had additional boundaries set up within those because we didn't want her going into certain areas -and she is aware of that and doesn't cross those borders. We live on 5 beautiful acres, so she has plenty of room to roam within our yard.

    (3) 1 1/2 years ago our daughter, husband and family with 2 dogs and a cat moved into our guest house on the property. Mercedes knows these dogs and seems really comfortable with them. One of them is an old Lab who just is sweet as can be and does not need the invisible collar. The other is a lab, border collie mix who is only a year or so old but does have an invisible fence collar. The cat and Mercedes get along great - they hunt voles together and such. So we don't think the animals are a problem.

    (4) when the grandchildren are over (we have 7 of them) and they often are at our home as we have a large swimming pond and entertain quite alot. We notice when we are interacting with the children, Mercedes seems a bit jealous - as she butts into the play and definetly wants to be a part of it, so we let her! It's quite cute, but that's the only time she takes a possessive advancement letting us know she wants to play!

    (5) We were away for the month of July on a trip to Sweden. Yet we had a friend of ours stay here - one that loves and knows her, and he too experienced the accidents in the house.

    The problem is really out of control. So, we are very perplexed about it and Mercedes.

    I have gotten upset with her when she has an accident (but that seems to make her even more reclusive and simply does not work). So we have now resorted to keeping her outside all the day long and then at night, we have moved her bed into the laundry room, and so far, she has not had one accident in that room - but we miss her sleeping in our room!

    She loves to go on walks with us and we often take her, however lately we have not been home to do so, but are not home and are - yet the accidents continue.

    We are at our wits end and desparate to try anything to get her back to her normal self - being happy and not having accidents in the house.

    Please give us any suggestions you might have - as we love her dearly...

    Thanks a bunch,

  • I have a 2 year old cat who bites me. He's loving and purring one minute and the next he lays into me. I don't mean just a little nip, he grabs my arm and bites drawing blood. I spray him with water and he leaves and licks it off, then he's fine. I don't want to get rid of him, but I get afraid of him at times. What do you suggest? Thank you.

  • Hi! I got into the car one evening, radio on and you had JUST talked about dogs licking. I missed it!! Can you help me now? I have three Lhaso Apsos. Daddy, Mama and one of the sons; Gizmo, Zoie and Rambler, respectively. They all lick mostly in the evening, I say "stop licking", they stop and I say "good boy/girl." However, Gizmo for the past two or three days has been licking incessantly! I have some VET'S+BEST Natural Formula Hot Spot Spray I started using last night. I spray it on the sofa or mist his paws and he stops for a little bit. But a few minutes later, he's back at it. I'm sure it sounds petty but it is annoying and I don't want him to "lick a problem" into his skin. What can I do? Help! ~~~ Justine

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