Veterinarians should be cat behavior experts

Cat at veterinary clinic
You need to make these visits fun!
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

It could be said that veterinarians are not sufficiently expert or knowledgeable about cat and dog behavior. Research indicates that they don’t focus on it enough. Further, it has been said that regular veterinary visits can make a cat or dog who was already fearful even more fearful and therefore vets could unwittingly be contributing to cat and dog behavior problems which may result in abandoning the companion animal.

Veterinarians should discuss with their clients (the cat or dog’s caretaker/guardian) cat and dog behavior problems when they are raised by the client.

In addition, veterinarian’s could focus more of their energies on making the environment in a veterinary clinic less fearful because at present they are often highly functional to the point where that functionality can be a factor in making cats or dogs frightened.

It appears that vets only address companion animal behavioral concerns when they become a problem for the veterinarian. This is a reactive process. Veterinarians should be more proactive by discussing companion animal behavioral problems when they become a concern for the client.

Sometimes clients are looking for advice on behavioral problems. Research supports this. The research also supports the fact that when this happens vets often fail to discuss the matter adequately.

For example, in one study cat and dog owners asked their veterinarian about companion animal behavior on 58 occasions. Only on 10 occasions did the veterinarian discussed the matter.

One of the reasons for abandoning pets is because the owner believes that their pet behaves badly or unmanageably. Therefore, the veterinarian passes up an opportunity to save lives because abandonment often leads to the euthanasia of the pet.

A vet should be able to identify a cat or dog who is fearful and uncertain when they are young and secondly minimize the maintaining of that fear at the clinic.

A study identified that almost 80% of dogs were fearful while being examined. About 13% of the dogs had to be dragged or carry into the practice. Less than half entered the clinic calmly. Dogs who had recently visited a veterinary clinic had higher stress levels than those who were not visiting recently.

Distressed behavior in companion animals at veterinary clinics can interfere with a vet’s ability to assess patients.

It is said that a veterinarian should be able to tell the difference between patients whose fear is a “pathological diagnosis” and those whose fear has been brought on by the visit to the clinic. How cat a vet evaluate genuine early years behavior problems when the pet is fearful the clinic?

Is it possible that the delivery of veterinary care may unwittingly teach cats and dogs that people can be threatening? Is it possible that visits to a veterinary clinic can contribute to the worsening development of any behavioral problems mentioned by the client? It is vital that veterinarians address anxiety in companion animals at the beginning of the doctor-patient relationship.

The argument is that veterinarians should be expending more energy on creating “behaviour-centred practices”. This means calm environments, teaching (training) patients that going to the vet is not a scary experience and avoiding situations during which a cat or dog could see the experience as being punishment or frightening. The goal is to try and get the companion animal to see the experience as being fun and rewarding.

“If we (meaning veterinarians) take the few minutes needed to assess how fearful the pet is and if we change our clinics and our behaviours to encourage more and better cooperation, we are likely to save lives daily and engender an enduring loyalty and trust from clients.”

The quote is from Dr Karen L Overall and this article is based upon her article on this webpage. She is editor of The Journal of Veterinary Behaviour: Clinical Applications and Research and more than 100 publications and a new book, The Manual of Clinical Behavioural Medicine For Dogs and Cats.

4 thoughts on “Veterinarians should be cat behavior experts”

  1. I know that this may not work for cats, but it really helped one of our dogs. She was abused as a puppy and was exceptionally fearful of men. Our vet is a man. I found that taking her to the vet as a visitor when my other animals had appointments really helped her learn that the vet and his staff are really nice people and not to be afraid of them. The last time I took her to the vet, she went up to a strange man and sniffed his pant leg while wagging her tail. I was thrilled! Usually she barked at everyone.

  2. “Remember why vets are in the business; it’s not to assess behavior.”

    Sandra: What you’ve said is very true and makes a lot of sense.

    We don’t have many pet behaviourists here in the U.K. and they tend only to work on referrals from vets. This is to ensure that any health problems have been ruled out as a possible cause for the “problem” behaviour.

    Behavioural problems also require home visits over weeks or months, to assess causes and work out a treatment plan. This just wouldn’t be possible for a busy vet to fit into their daily schedule.

  3. I can only speak from my own experience, but I’ve found the vet and vet nurses I’ve used here in Britain, happy to offer behavioural advice.

    Many years ago I had a problem with a previous cat who suddenly began pooing behind my bedroom door every single day. Not great when the door opens inwards 🙁 Assuming it was a health problem I rang the vet to make an appointment. As soon as I explained the problem was misplaced toileting, the first question they asked was where she was pooing. The lady I spoke with on the phone immediately suggested this was behavioural and asked if there were other pets or any cats hanging around outside. When I said there was a stray cat spending a lot of time in our garden, they suggested finding a home for the stray would help and it did. As soon as he was re-homed, my cat went back to using her litter tray full time.

    I’ve found that some vets are much better than others at handling nervous animals in clinic and perhaps they are the ones who do have a good understanding of animal behaviour. A calm but confident approach always seems to help relax the animal. On the few occasions I’ve encountered a vet who was less than patient when one of my cats was getting a bit feisty, I’ve changed vet.

    Owners also have a part to play in this scenario. The better we understand animal behaviour, the better informed we are to recognise a good exam-table-side manner from a bad one.

  4. Well, I don’t think that vets would include this, since their focus is on “fixing” a physical/psychological issue, just as MD’s are. How many times has your doctor asked about your lifestyle behavior?

    Cats and dogs smell unfamiliar odors, hear and smell other animals, and may detect disease or illness from other pets.

    Although they don’t know about this environment, like we do when we go to the dentist or doctor, it’s unfamiliar, and therefore creates a stress response.
    That’s why mobile vets are preferred, if affordable. We have one in our area who doesn’t charge anymore than a regular vet, but of course she’s in high demand. She has low overhead, and is also holistic. A double plus. I couldn’t get an appointment when Mitzy was in crisis, so that’s the downside.

    I think if we need “behavior consulting”, we have to find a specialist. Fortunately they seem to be increasing.

    Remember why vets are in the business; it’s not to assess behavior. That’s a whole different arena, and doesn’t fit into their business model for profit.

    It only becomes a focus if they get bit or scratched!
    They aren’t in the rescue business either, so it’s not their concern if an animal goes to a shelter.

    If vets aren’t concerned with the most vital component of health, which is diet, I think we’re in “la-la land” to ask them to be “behavior experts”. If only……


Leave a Comment

follow it link and logo