Understanding the Guidelines' Key Points
More dogs and cats are affected by behavioral problems than any other condition, often resulting in euthanasia, relinquishment of the pet, or chronic suffering.
Behavioral management of dogs and cats is now recognized as an essential component of primary companion animal practice.
The most common types of canine and feline behavioral disorders are inappropriate elimination, aggression, separation anxiety, and noise phobia.
A standardized pet behavioral assessment and discussion with the client about the animal’s behavior should be conducted at 6 months of age and at least annually thereafter.
Relinquishment or euthanasia of dogs and cats due to behavioral problems occurs most often during the process of social maturity at 1 to 3 years of age.
Monitoring for cognitive and physiological changes in senior pets should be conducted at least annually in middle-aged dogs (starting at 5–8 years of age for larger breeds and 8–10 years for smaller breeds) and cats (starting at 10–12 years).
Allowing dogs and cats to have appropriate encounters with other animals, new places, and people at an early age will minimize later occurrence of behavioral and socialization problems.
Patterns of socialization and other behaviors, both normal and abnormal, are established early in an animal’s development; thus, correction of problem behaviors is most effective if accomplished early after onset, particularly if they occur during puppy- or kittenhood.
Because behavioral conditions tend to be progressive, intervention at the earliest possible time will preserve the quality of life for both the pet and the client and will make the pet an easier patient to treat.
Most dogs and cats do not outgrow behavioral problems without intervention on the part of the pet owner or the veterinary health care team.
Qualified trainers can be valuable partners on a veterinary behavior management team.
Referral to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist may be needed in intractable cases or when pet behavior problems fall outside the capabilities of the general practice.
Treatment of pet social or behavioral problems is multifactorial and should include behavior modification, training of alternative behaviors, and medication when appropriate.
A step-by-step case approach as defined in the guidelines should be used for diagnosis and treatment of canine and feline behavioral disorders.
Minimizing the patient’s fear in the veterinary hospital is critical for enabling successful examination and recovery of hospitalized animals.
The least stressful, most humane methods of restraint should be used in the hospital, an approach that allows the patient’s response to determine the need for and duration of pharmacologic control.
Use of behavior-modifying medications, especially on an extra-label basis, should always involve a risk-benefit assessment and include appropriate client education.
Patient-friendly handling of canine and feline patients will enhance efficiency and quality of care in the hospital setting and increase the client’s perception of compassionate care by the health care team.
Designating a champion is an effective approach to ensuring that behavioral management is one of the practice’s core competencies and that the entire health care team is committed to a humane and scientific approach for managing pet behavior problems.
Ultimately, the success of any behavior management intervention depends on a team approach that involves appropriate veterinary team members and the pet owner in developing a treatment plan, regularly reassessing the plan, and modifying the plan based on the patient’s response.