Behavior problems in dogs and cats are actually some of the biggest reasons pets are relinquished to shelters or euthanized. Yet, not all veterinarians actively address or inquire about behavior changes in your pet. At Gray Animal Hospital, we’re determined to change that. Not only do all our vets care about behavioral changes in your pet, we’ve also got one who had a special interest and advanced training in animal behavior! Dr. Lewiston, our cat and dog behaviorist, can help you work on a wide variety of behavioral issues so you and your pet can get back to building your bond.
The Difference Between a Cat and Dog Behaviorist and a Trainer
There are a wide variety of pet behavior professionals from trainers to board-certified veterinary specialists. Trainers can be certified by professional training schools, but this isn’t necessary, so many trainers’ backgrounds vary.
Meanwhile, cat and dog behaviorists must be certified to deserve the name, but there are different types of certifications, including Applied Animal Behaviorists, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB), and Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (ACAAB). Each designation shows an expertise in animal behavior and can often pinpoint the root cause of the behavior problem, which is essential in treating the issue. Many CAABs and ACAABs work through veterinary referrals, so they can work with your veterinarian to prescribe the right behavioral medications, if needed.
And finally, there are veterinary behaviorists. Dr. Lewiston is in this bracket, and has advanced training in veterinary behavioral medicine. Veterinary behaviorists can earn certification through the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and become a Diplomat. To do this, vets must complete a residency in behavior and pass a qualifying exam. Veterinary behaviorists are able to treat behavior problems fully by identifying the root cause, formulating a plan to overcome the issue, and even prescribing medication wherever necessary.
How to Treat Cat and Dog Behavior Problems
Treating behavior problems in dogs and cats requires a multi-modal approach. We approach each case in a similar way, and then will customize the treatment once we determine the cause. Steps we generally follow when treating a behavior problem include:
1. Rule out physical or medical issues. Sometimes your pet’s behavior problem is actually caused by a medical issue. Maybe your dog has arthritis, and so begins to ignore the “sit” command to avoid pain. Or perhaps your cat is toileting outside the litter box because they have a urinary tract infection. To ensure we’re not dealing with a medical issue, we’ll run comprehensive tests and perform exams before moving on to the next step.
2. Identify the root cause of the problem. If a medical issue isn’t to blame, then we’ll need to identify the root cause of your pet’s behavior problem. Problems can develop for a number of reasons. Changes to your home environment, such as moving, adding a new pet, or having a baby; poor socialization in their early years; and negative past experiences can all trigger behavioral issues.
3. Develop a treatment plan. Once we identify the root cause of your pet’s issue, we’ll work on developing a treatment plan to curb the behavior. This may include counter-conditioning, desensitization, shaping, response substitution, or medication. You may be able to work with your pet on your own to slowly condition them to no longer exhibit their undesirable behavior, however, sometimes it may be necessary to elicit the help of a professional trainer. Will work with you to recommend a trusted trainer in these instances.