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