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Schizophrenia Can Strike Your Pet

Does your pet act very loving and affectionate one moment, only to growl or hiss just seconds later at the same hand it had been licking?

If so, your dog or cat could be among the many thousands in this country that suffer from schizophrenia.

Many of us have either heard of or read about people who suffer from schizophrenia. They exhibit multiple personalities and show an inability to come to grips with reality.

But few of us realize that the very same disorder can afflict our pets. In fact, schizophrenia is one of the more difficult and complex emotional disorders that pets can experience.

In dogs and cats, schizophrenia is characterized by rapid changes in personality - changes that are so radical, that a casual observer could easily assume that the pet has multiple personalities that are always in conflict.

Those extreme behavioral reversals happen very quickly, without any apparent trigger, and may occur as often as five or ten times in an hour.

Usually, it’s the mood changes of the owner - which may be subtle and not obvious to the average person - that set the animal off.

For example, take a situation where the family is splashing in the pool, laughing and shouting at one another. The general mood is good. Suddenly, the husband screams, “no!” at his wife or child. The pet may react violently - either becoming very aggressive or shying away. Then, as the family dynamic shifts back from negative to positive, the dog or cat may again reverse his behavior.

Schizophrenia often appears in chaotic households where there are many different and conflicting personalities and constant mood changes for the pet to deal with in more than one family member. It can also appear in households where pet owners are very permissive, the pets lack any kind of structure and subsequently never learn limits or where to stop.

If any of these situations sounds only too familiar, you and your pet may be nurturing a problem that will only grow worse with time unless you take some steps now.

Recognizing the problem and making a family decision to take corrective action is a must. You should also seek qualified professional help from a reputable trainer or veterinarian. They can be more effective in helping you if you can provide some important background on your pet’s personality.

Keep a diary, recording what the pet is like when it is in its good mood. What is its body language and what kind of look does it have in its eyes. Note what events (family argument, doorbell ring, phone, etc.) took place when he changed to his negative mood.

Observe your pet in different situations. What is the animal like when it’s quiet in the house and what it is like in the midst of chaos -- like small kids running around the house?

Many schizophrenic animals are most comfortable when they are thrust into noisy, stressful or active situations. Others thrive only in settings that are quiet and calm.

Most schizophrenic pets do well when their owners take time to work more closely with them. By remaining consistent - never acting indecisively and by providing a great deal of love and reassurance, you can help restore your pet’s sound mental health.

Provided by Dr. Arthur Newman, owner of Crossroads Veterinary Clinic, 5987 Pine Ridge Road, Naples, 239-455-3335.

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