10 life-threatening behavior myths - Veterinary Medicine
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10 life-threatening behavior myths
Have some of your clients—or even you—voiced any of these misconceptions? Think about your responses to colleagues and clients who perpetuate these myths. Your words can be the best medicine for preventing relinquishments and euthanasia and bonding clients to your practice.


Referral to other veterinarians interested in behavior or to certified animal behaviorists

For clients who cannot go see a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, be prepared with a list of nearby veterinarians who have an interest in patients with behavior problems. The AVSAB Web site ( http://www.avsabonline.org/) allows you to find veterinarians near you who are members and are willing to see patients with behavior problems. Although the AVSAB is not a certifying organization, the individuals who join it are interested in veterinary behavior and have the opportunity to seek out continuing education that provides them with the most up-to-date knowledge about pet behavior problems. These individuals can be excellent resources for veterinarians who have minimal interest or training in behavior.

Another option is a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB). These individuals have two to five years of formal postgraduate training in the field of animal behavior and have attained either a master's degree or a doctorate in the field. They are well-trained to help counsel owners about pets with behavior problems, but because they are not veterinarians, they cannot make medical diagnoses or prescribe medications. They will expect that a pet has had a thorough physical examination before seeing it and will refer a pet back to its veterinarian if they think medication may be needed. Only a licensed veterinarian can prescribe a drug, so it is the veterinarian's responsibility to be familiar with the commonly used psychotropic drugs and their side effects, contraindications, and drug interactions. Writing a prescription based only on a nonveterinarian's recommendation is unethical and could lead to a malpractice suit if problems develop. CAABs are certified by the Animal Behavior Society (ABS), and the one nearest you can be found on the ABS Web site ( http://www.animalbehavior.org/).

The fact is, veterinarians must do thorough research before referring a client to a trainer or behaviorist. Sending an animal to an inappropriate trainer can exacerbate behavior problems and may have serious consequences.

MYTH #10

"I don't have time for behavior cases."

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This misconception seems to stem from the belief that adding behavior services to a practice means blocking off two-or three-hour appointments to diagnose and treat behavior problems, which is simply not practical. However, the role that general practitioners can play is important but does not require that kind of time commitment. It does, however, require a basic knowledge of animal behavior and learning theory, which sadly, most veterinary schools still fail to teach.4

Fortunately, excellent resources are readily available (Table 1). Most major veterinary conferences have excellent animal behavior programs, most veterinary journals publish animal behavior information, and several easy-to-use texts and client handouts have been published.31 All of these information sources can help general practitioners do what they are in the best position to do: educate clients on preventing behavior problems and offer appropriate intervention at the earliest signs of behavior problems.

Client education begins with helping prospective pet owners choose the right pet. The reality is that not nearly enough clients will take advantage of the wealth of counseling you can provide. However, once they present you with their new pets, you can still do a lot to increase the chances of their raising pets with minimal or no behavior problems. Some of these things have already been mentioned above: encouraging owners to properly socialize their pets and giving them good-quality advice on training methods and preventing common behavior problems.

You may need to initiate the behavior discussion because many clients may be embarrassed about their pets' behavior, believing that it is their fault. Asking questions about their pets' behavior is the best way to let clients know that you can help them with all aspects of their pets' health. Studies have shown that most pet owners consider veterinarians to be the best resource for information about their pets.32 If we are not prepared to provide this information, they will seek it from far less reliable and potentially harmful sources, such as the television, the Internet, and other popular media.

The fact is, you are in the best position to recognize behavior problems early and encourage owners to seek qualified help.


In the words of a dear friend and colleague, "Behavior is not an afterthought for animals. Why does it continue to be for us?" Behavior does not exist separately from physiology. It is a direct result of physiology. Stress and anxiety have long been known to lead to neuroendocrine changes that can contribute to a complex sequence of events resulting in a variety of disease processes. The importance of the interaction between psychosocial factors and a predisposition to various pathophysiological processes has been given new attention in human medicine recently and has led to the relatively new field of inquiry labeled psychoneuroimmunology.33 Veterinarians are confronted by patients who cannot speak to them so to ignore their behavior is to ignore the only way they have of communicating with us, thus, setting ourselves up to ultimately fail them completely.

Valarie V. Tynes, DVM, DACVB
P.O. Box 1040
Fort Worth, TX 76101


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