2015 AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines

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The 2015 AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines were developed to provide practitioners and staff with concise, evidence-based information to ensure that the basic behavioral needs of feline and canine patients are understood and met in every practice. Some facility in veterinary behavioral and veterinary behavioral medicine is essential in modern veterinary practice. More cats and dogs are affected by behavioral problems than any other condition. Behavioral problems result in patient suffering and relinquishment and adversely affect staff morale. These guidelines use a fully inclusive team approach to integrate basic behavioral management into everyday patient care using standardized behavioral assessments; create a low-fear and low-stress environment for patients, staff, and owners; and create a cooperative relationship with owners and patients so that the best care can be delivered. The guidelines’ practical, systematic approach allows veterinary staff to understand normal behavior and recognize and intervene in common behavioral problems early in development. The guidelines emphasize that behavioral management is a core competency of any modern practice. (J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 2015; 51:205–221. DOI 10.5326/JAAHA-MS-6527)


The purpose of these guidelines is to provide practitioners and staff with up-to-date, evidence-based information to ensure that the basic behavioral needs of canine and feline patients are met. More dogs and cats are affected by behavioral problems than any other condition, often resulting in euthanasia, relinquishment of the patient, or chronic suffering. These guidelines were written to help veterinary professionals accomplish the following objectives:1–5

  1. Integrate basic behavioral management into all aspects of clinical practice so that every patient gets the best hands-on care in a low-stress environment.
  2. Understand age-specific normal and abnormal behavior for dogs and cats to ensure developing or existing behavioral problems are recognized and addressed.
  3. Promote routine assessment of behavioral development and changes in behavior through the use of standardized assessment tools.
  4. Provide owners with guidance regarding the most common canine and feline behavioral conditions so clients seek help early (if needed).
  5. Create co-operative patients and superb client-veterinarian- patient relationships so the patient and client can benefit from a lifetime of the best possible care.
  6. Impress upon the entire veterinary health care team the importance of making behavioral management a core competency of the practice.

These guidelines will help readers develop the expertise and confidence to teach clients about their pets’ behavioral needs. If staff and clients are effectively educated regarding pet behavioral needs, veterinarians will create a health care team that produces the best patient outcomes. Improved outcomes translate to increased client retention and decreased frequency of euthanasia. Veterinarians play a pivotal role in increasing the quality of life for their patients and for their patients’ owners. Knowledge about behavior also reduces the risk of injury for staff and clients and improves staff members’ job satisfaction. More efficient physical examinations, better information exchange, and staff trained to conduct behavior modification and instructional appointments lead to improved patient care, better case outcomes, and profitability for veterinary practices. These guidelines will help veterinarians become clients’ first source of information so they will not seek services or advice from those not qualified to provide optimal care. (J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 2015; 51:205–221. DOI 10.5326/JAAHA-MS-6527)

The Task Force acknowledges the contributions of Mark Dana of the Kanara Consulting Group, LLC, in the preparation of the 2015 AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines, and the administrative assistance provided by Jennifer Hartman.

These guidelines were prepared by a task force of experts convened by the American Animal Hospital Association for the express purpose of producing this article. They were subjected to the same external review process as all JAAHA articles. This document is intended as a guideline only. Evidence-based support for specific recommendations has been cited whenever  possible and appropriate. Other recommendations are based on practical clinical experience and a consensus of expert opinion. Further research is needed to document some of these recommendations. Because each case is different, veterinarians must base their decisions and actions on the best available scientific evidence, in conjunction with their own expertise, knowledge, and experience.