Dog snaps when head touched.
Breed: Bichon Frise
Age: 8-11 years
Dear Dr. Marie,
Our 7 year old bichon frise has started new concerning behavior. Her background may be important and I will try to be brief. The poor thing had Calcium oxalate stones that were removed at age 2 and she has been on Hills W/D diet since. We monitor her urine frequently. She also has luxating patella. From the day we brought her home from a well researched breeder, at 12 weeks, she has been sweet and treated with love. Only positive reinforcement training. However, she has never cared to be held or approached to quickly. We have always been respectful of her ways and over time she became more affectionate and loving. She does have many fears. She has always snapped if you touch her while she is sleeping. We learned to speak to her first and let her know we'd like to pet her, then she is fine and loving. She often sits next to me at the end of the day for a back rub and ear massage...her favorite. She just loves the ear rub and rolls into my hand and just enjoys. Each year becoming more relaxed and secure. For the last few weeks she has suddenly started to snap at me in the middle of a head rub or ear massage. So strange. I'm afraid to have her lay on my lap or sit next to me to be rubbed as we have done for years because of this. She just had her physical and is healthy. Her urine had a bit of bacteria so it is being treated with an antibiotic. She takes Denamarin for high liver numbers that she has always had...565 this time. All other blood work is normal. Ears checked and fine. Everything else is status quo. I don't understand and want to help her and give her love and affection but I am afraid she'll bite. She was checked for cushing's last year and an ultrasound was done on her liver ... all was well. She is also on Potassium to keep the crystals out of her urine. Frontline and Interceptor monthly. I do think some arthritis may be starting. Help? Thank you, Susan Montanaro
Dr. Marie replied:
Hmmm...this is a really tough question to answer. Often it is really difficult to know why a dog would start to become more aggressive like this.
The first thing I would ask is whether or not she is spayed. If not, then it is possible that she has hormonal issues that are causing her to be more grumpy.
Otherwise, it's really a tough call. I am guessing that this is probably not due to pain. But, you never know. She may be feeling a little bit off because of her bacterial UTI. If so, it's possible that she will be better behaved once that is healed up.
It may be worthwhile to ask your vet to prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication for a while to see if that makes a difference (i.e if there is any pain anywhere.) However, most anti-inflammatories that we have are processed through the liver and the vet may feel that the risk of damage to the liver (although small) is not worth it.
I have seen dogs that simply do get grumpier as they get older and that is tough to deal with. Medication such as Reconcile or Clomicalm may help if this is a behavioral issue.
I wish I could give you more actionable advice! Let me know if you have more questions.
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