Primary care veterinarians have a solid understanding of the body’s workings and how to treat pets when they become ill. However, comprehending how the brain works and shapes behavior is a significantly more challenging feat. Veterinary behaviorists appreciate the complex interactions among a pet’s environment, family dynamics, upbringing, training history, and genetics. These veterinary specialists’ extensive knowledge and experience enable them to untangle a new or existing behavioral problem’s web of contributing factors, so they can apply practical techniques to improve an affected patient’s and client’s quality of life. 

Unfortunately, not all clients have access to a local veterinary behaviorist because of waiting lists, cost concerns, or geographic distance. You can improve your client and patient access to expert behavioral care with VESPECON. Learn how consulting with a veterinary behaviorist can improve your clinic’s patient care.

#1: Detailed veterinary behavioral histories

Taking a behavioral history is more challenging than many veterinarians believe. Behaviors a client considers minor or inconsequential may be quite important to their pet’s diagnosis or treatment, and these details can be difficult for veterinarians to suss out. Consulting with a behaviorist when the diagnosis, triggers, or behaviors in question are unclear can provide a blueprint for additional questioning. Recording behaviors and situations leading up to behaviors is also helpful, and a behaviorist can review these recordings and further guide how you gather patients’ behavioral histories.

#2: Help with unusual veterinary behavioral cases

Many behavior cases don’t align nicely into a diagnostic category, and veterinarians may be uncomfortable working through uncertain grey areas. Cats and dogs can develop bizarre behaviors, and you may feel unsure about what to do next. Veterinary behaviorists have seen everything, including dogs who attack appliances, and pets who have bizarre compulsions. These veterinary specialists can draw on the other unusual cases they have seen in the past to determine what could be contributing to your patient’s problem and how you can diagnose and treat the issue.

#3: Customized veterinary behavioral management and training protocols

Environmental management and training procedures are crucial to helping pets change their inappropriate or maladaptive behaviors. Although some management techniques are obvious, such as physical barriers or situational avoidance, they may require creativity to find an effective solution to prevent a pet from behaving inappropriately. 

After a client has been able to manage their pet’s inappropriate behavior, veterinary behaviorists often recommend desensitization and counterconditioning or other similar training techniques. The specialist’s continuous guidance is essential for a pet owner to perform successfully at home. A veterinary behavior specialist can help you match your clients with the right trainers for their pets’ needs and help you adjust training plans if they go awry.

#4: Outside-the-box veterinary behavioral medication management

Medications, combined with behavior management techniques, are one of the first treatments for resolving a veterinary behavioral problem. Medication can decrease anxiety, panic, or aggression thresholds and allow an affected pet’s brain to calm down long enough that they can focus and learn during a behavior modification training session. Most primary veterinarians are familiar with first-line or U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved behavior medications, such as fluoxetine or clomipramine, but when these medications are ineffective, they are unsure about how to proceed. Veterinary behavioral medications used off-label can become complex quickly, and often patients with behavior issues require more than one. Finding an effective drug combination takes time and is somewhat of a trial-and-error process. A behaviorist can tap into their knowledge to decide on the best option to try next, helping increase a treatment’s success and shortening the time necessary to land on the right veterinary behavioral medication regimen.

#5: Troubleshooting in difficult veterinary behavioral cases

Their pet’s severe behavior problems can lead a client to the end of their rope and force them to make the difficult decision to give up or euthanize their pet. When a client expresses their despair about their pet’s inappropriate behavior, you must take their concerns seriously and address their pet’s issues quickly. A behaviorist can help formulate an immediate management plan that helps ensure the struggling pet remains in the home. In addition, a specialist can recommend various treatment options if initial methods are ineffective. By consulting with a veterinary behaviorist, you also can provide clients with realistic expectations and prepare them for potential complications if a specific treatment fails.

Veterinary behavior issues are challenging, and pinpointing the cause often takes time to untangle, as does finding an effective treatment plan. Often, general practitioners do not have the time or training to formulate extensive treatment plans or manage medications beyond first-line drugs, but our VESPECON behavior consultants can help. Contact us to learn more about our services, find out how our consultants collaborate across disciplines to achieve the best outcomes, or sign up to get started.