Owners may not always be aware that behavior they consider bizarre is actually normal. At other times, such behavior really is abnormal and a history is the first step to understanding it. Videotaping is a good method of documenting the behavior, especially if it is happening while the owners are gone. Physical examination, laboratory tests, and special procedures help determine if the behavior problem is due to a medical condition.
Senile changes are called cognitive dysfunction. Although this disorder has been studied in dogs more than in cats, it probably also occurs in cats. Recognized changes include decreased social interactions, loss of housetraining, disorientation, and changes in the sleep-wake cycle. The most common change in cats is increased vocalization. Treatments include melatonin, selegiline, a high-antioxidant diet, and environmental changes.

Active behaviors are also noted in pets. A rolling skin syndrome in cats may have a physiologic basis. The cat's eyes will suddenly dilate and the skin along the back ripples. The cat screams and takes off running. Hyperactivity and hyperkinesis can also occur in animals. Dogs act the same with either condition. They are overly active, excessively alert, and often too vocal. Repetitive behaviors include acral lick dermatitis, excessive licking, and tail chasing. In the acute phase, the behavior is stopped by distraction. In the chronic phase, animals may respond to narcotic antagonists or selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors.

Cat owners commonly complain that their cats wake them up at 4 AM. This is a typical time for cats to become active, but owners assume that it is because the cat is hungry. Feeding the cat rewards the behavior, and it will continue. Ignoring the behavior for a few days will stop it, but the cat may become more disruptive before it gets better.

Fears and phobias occur in dogs and cats. Phobias include the fear of noise (thunder), people or other dogs (cats), storms, surfaces or environments, odors, and visual images. Therapy includes behavior modification, environmental manipulation, and drug therapy. For a thunder phobia, alprazolam is the benzodiazepine of choice because it is effective even if arousal has started. Social stresses may cause psychogenic problems. The stress (e.g., a new baby in the home) may or may not be easy to recognize.

Owners must be willing to be involved in the treatment for behavior modification to be successful. They may also need to realize that they may be contributing to the problem. Behaviors that are cute in a kittens or puppies may not be so cute when they grow up.

Crazy cats and dorky dogs. Beaver BV. AAHA PROCEEDINGS, 2003, pp 19-21.