Behavioral abnormalities in dogs and cats include anxiety, stress, depression, aggression, and inappropriate elimination. Behavioral problems affect more dogs and cats than any other medical condition and are one of the most common causes of euthanasia, relinquishment, or abandonment of pets. For that reason, behavioral management of dogs and cats is now recognized as an essential
component of primary companion animal practice. Each health care exam should include an evaluation of the pet’s behavior. A basic tenet of behavioral management is that patterns of social and other behaviors, both normal and abnormal, are established early in development. Correction of problem behaviors is most effective if accomplished soon after onset, particularly if they occur during
puppy- or kittenhood.
Treatment of social or behavioral problems is multifactorial. Behavior can be modified by proven techniques that can be implemented by the owner with veterinary guidance. The primary role of pharmacologic intervention in pet behavior management is to reduce anxiety
and to enable patient-friendly physical handling in the clinical setting.
Practices that want to establish behavioral management as a core competency should involve each member of the health care team in a comprehensive approach to problematic behavior recognition, assessment, correction, and counseling. Extreme or intractable behavior problems in pet dogs and cats may fall outside the capabilities of even an experienced primary care veterinarian; therefore, referral
to a veterinary behavior specialist is an important and viable option.
By developing expertise in pet behavioral management across the entire health care team, veterinary practices provide an added dimension of value that increases the quality of life for its patients and clients and reinforces the pet-veterinarian-client relationship for the lifetime of the patient.
From The Pet Doctor, O’Fallon, MO (M.H.); Mesa Veterinary Hospital, Golden, CO (C.H.); Animal Emergency and Referral Associates, Fairfield, NJ (E.L.); University of Pennsylvania, Biology Department, Philadelphia, PA (K.O.); Coral Springs Animal Hospital, Coral Springs, FL (L.R.); Springville, NY (M.R.-R.); and Davis, CA (S.Y.).
Correspondence: [email protected]
AAHA, American Animal Hospital Association; BZD, benzodiazepine; MAOI, monoamine oxidase inhibitor; SARI, dual serotonin 2A antagonist/serotonin reuptake inhibitor; SSRI, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor; TCA, tricyclic antidepressant
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. These guidelines were supported by a generous educational grant from CEVA Animal Health, Virbac Animal Health, and the AAHA Foundation.
†Deceased 28 September 2014.