Reduce repetitive behaviours in pets

Reduce repetitive behaviours in pets

Repetitive behaviours include pacing, over-grooming, self-mutilation and fly-biting.

Repetitive behaviours in our furry friends can be a sign of stress. Dr Xavier Manteca, University Autonoma de Barcelona, discusses the signs to look for and treatment strategies at the 2016 Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) annual conference.

“In healthy animals, repetitive behaviours are often caused by the environment. This can include chronic stress or inability to perform highly motivated behaviours such as exploration” he said.

“Repetitive behaviours of dogs and cats include pacing, over-grooming, self-mutilation and fly-biting.”

“Some animals can be more predisposed to developing repetitive behaviours than others as a result of inadequate stimuli, early experiences and genetic factors. For example, circling is more common in Bull Terriers, flank linking in Dobermans and wool sucking in oriental cats.”

“Unfortunately, many owners can inadvertently reinforce these undesirable behaviours by trying to calm their pets, so these animals quickly learn that these behaviours lead to more attention.”

According to Dr Manteca, there are several strategies that can be used to reduce repetitive behaviours in pets:

  1. Enriching environments – ensure you provide your pet with an enriching environment and plenty of stimuli, walks and social contact.
  2. Unconscious reinforcement – it’s important that you don’t give your pet attention when they’re performing these repetitive behaviours. Punishing the behaviour is undesirable as it will just make the problem worse.
  3. Interrupting the behaviour – it can be useful to interrupt the behaviour. If the pet stops performing the undesired behaviour, an acceptable behaviour should be rewarded.
  4. Secondary medical problems – keep an eye on conditions that may occur from repetitive behaviour, such as skins conditions from over grooming, as these will require treatment.
  5. Medication – in some cases your pet may require medication to assist with behavioural disorders.


Dr Xavier Manteca is professor at the School of Veterinary Science in Barcelona, where he teaches animal behaviour and animal welfare. His main areas of research include welfare assessment in farm, companion and zoo animals, and behavioural problems in companion animals. He has published several books and more than 150 papers in peer-reviewed journals. Xavier is diplomate of the European College of Animal Welfare and Behavioural Medicine.

The Australian Veterinary Association Ltd (AVA) is the national professional association of veterinary surgeons in Australia. Founded in 1921, the AVA today represents 8000 members working in all areas of animal science, health and welfare.