What Causes Pets to Bite?
Dogs and cats cannot speak or vocalize their discomfort like humans can. They growl (dogs) or hiss (cats) to let us know when they are not happy, guarding their territory or threatened. While most dogs growl as a warning before biting, some may be overtly aggressive and threatening – often biting indiscriminately.
Puppies tend to bite as a means of exploration as they are not used to their jaw strength. Cats too can be prone to aggressive behavior and biting. This can result in problems in the household not to mention potentially disastrous consequences outside the home, endangering other animals and humans.
Some causes of biting in pets include:
- Provocation (the animal feels threatened and defends itself from perceived danger)
- Pain (animals who have unseen injury may view an approaching person as the inflictor of the pain)
- Abuse (a previously neglected animal may be more aggressive and prone to bite)
- Illness – unprovoked biting (rabies and certain conditions may cause an animal to bite indiscriminately without cause)
- Aggressive behavior (poor training in early years may lead to aggressive behavior)
- Food removal (an animal may view an approaching individual as a threat to food source if they are not fed regularly or have a history of abuse.)
- Hormonal levels - dogs that have not been spayed or neutered are three times more likely to bite
Help for Biting
Many conventional treatments are available for aggressive behavior and your vet may prescribe tranquilizer-type medication or nervous system relaxants. Keep in mind these are strong drugs and may be accompanied by side effects and may not be suitable for animals with a heart condition.
Aggressive behavior and biting need not mean harsh drugs for your pet. There are many natural herbal and homeopathic therapies and remedies suited to help calm your pet and discourage biting.
Scutellaria laterifolia (Scullcap) is used to support the entire nervous system, encouraging calm behavior while also soothing tempered pets, while Matricaria recutita (Chamomilla) is a medicinal herb used to facilitate soothed behavior in your pet and discourage aggression.
Homeopathic ingredients such as Belladonna, Arsen alb. and Hepar sulph help to address oversensitive animals that are prone to ‘hissy fits’ and that tend to manifest physically in the form of scratching or hissing as well as those who take unreasonable likes or dislikes to others.
More Information on Biting
Tips for preventing biting in dogs:
- Always obtain a dog from a reputable breeder with a proven track record with regards to temperament. If you adopt from a charity organization where the animal is likely to have a history of abuse, discuss their socialization with the trainers or behaviorists.
- Spay or neuter your dog (ideally before 9 months of age)
- Subject your dog to obedience and socialization training (from as early as 12 weeks)
- Seek help from a properly qualified animal behavior specialist when the first signs of aggression appear – do not wait until your dog bites someone.
- If your dog is aggressive make sure the dog can't escape from your property and use a muzzle when appropriate (trips to the vet)
- Never tap or smack a dog's nose as punishment for nipping as this tends to trigger instinctive biting in self-defense
- Be aware of a female dog that is in heat and in the proximity of a male dog. Do not let people, particularly small children; interact with a male dog or a bitch, when the male is near a female that is actively in heat.
Tips for parents with regards to aggressive dogs:
Dogs that have killed cats and show predatory tendencies should be kept away from toddlers and children. The dog's predatory tendencies should to be addressed immediately with behaviorists and medication if necessary.
- If you dog lacks a proven tract record of 100% acceptable non-aggressive behavior then keep the dog away from children who do not know the dog that well,
- Instruct your children not to approach dogs that are feeding, or in possession of an object such a bone or toy, or when a dog is resting or sleeping.
- Teach children to treat dogs in a humane and caring manner and to respect a dog or cat’s personal space. Animal abuse should never be tolerated.
Tips for puppies that bite:
When a puppy bites during play do not yell or whine, as this may cause the pup to think it is part of the game. Instead, say a firm "Ouch" or "No" and stop playing. When the puppy has settled, resume playing.