Veterinary Behavioural Medicine
Veterinary Behavioural Medicine is a field of veterinary science that deals primarily with chemical imbalances within the brain of animals. In the same way that psychology and mental health in people deals with diseases of the brain, so too does VBM in veterinary science.
Problem Behaviour vs Behaviour Problem
Problem behaviours are behaviours that are normal for the animal but present a problem for the owner, such as scratching in cats and digging in dogs. Animals learn in the same way that we do, by making associations with good and bad things. From this they learn that their actions have consequences, and as a result, are always learning regardless of whether we are training them or not. They learn that the sound of the food bowl means feeding is imminent and that a rattle of your keys might mean that your are about to leave. Some natural behaviours can become inadvertently reinforced because they are reinforcing for the pet. An example of this is a dog that jumps up when greeting people. The dog wants your attention, however, this can become a nuisance behaviour because the dog may scratch you in the process.
Behaviour problems are abnormal behaviours that the pet has no control over. They result
from alterations in chemicals in the brain such as serotonin, GABA, noradrenaline, glutamate etc. A pet with a behaviour problem is not misbehaving for attention. They have a psychological problem that needs help from a qualified professional. Humans are often prescribed medication and psychological therapy to help with their anxiety or depression. Here at PVBS we do the same for those animals that require extra help.
If your pet is showing any of the following signs, even at a young age, then it will NOT
grow out of it and would benefit from a behaviour consult:
- fearful behaviour in any situation, such as on walks, towards people, children or men, in the car, veterinary visits, thunderstorms etc.
- reactivity (barking, lunging, snapping, whining) towards other people, children, dogs or animals
- noise sensitivity – shying and hiding away or barking/reacting excessively to novel or high-pitched sounds
- aggression in any form
- house soiling
- destructive behaviours (chewing, digging, fence jumping etc.)
- repetitive behaviours (tail chasing, over grooming, shadow chasing etc.)
Behaviour problems are the number one reason why pets are relinquished to shelters, and subsequently euthanised. The sooner the problems are dealt with, the better the outcome for the patient and the family. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for serious behavioural problems. PVBS recommends working with a qualified professional, preferably under the guidance of a veterinary surgeon, in order to improve your pet’s behavioural problem. Using force-based training methods often suppresses behaviours leading to an unpredictable animal. Punishment in training has also been shown scientifically to make behaviour problems worse, whilst also damaging the bond between you and your pet.
If you think your pet is suffering with a behaviour problem contact PVBS for a behavioural consultation.
A lot of the behavioural problems that we see in our pets can have underlying medical causes. The main reason owners decide to take their pet to the vet is due to a change in their behaviour (drinking more, eating more, scratching excessively etc.). So why not take your pet to vet when they are behaving oddly?
Alterations in neurochemicals in your pet’s brain can have far reaching effects on your pet’s health, some of which require medication to balance. Medical problems can also affect your pet’s behaviour, for example pain from arthritis may increase aggression, hormone problems can interfere with neurochemical pathways in the brain and neurological conditions can look similar to compulsive disorders. A vet is clinically trained and can investigate the potential causes of your pet’s change in behaviour in order to determine the difference between a medical, psychological or straight training problem.