I have always been interested in the behavior and behavior problems of dogs and cats. It seemed like almost every dog or cat that came through the clinic had some sort of behavior issue that an owner wanted help with, and this has remained true to this day now that I am wrapping up my veterinary education. The importance of being aware of behavior problems became more and more evident to me as time went on, and it is still a high priority to me in terms of my skills as a primary care veterinarian. Small Animal Behavior has developed into one of my favorite aspects of veterinary medicine and an area where I feel like I can be most effective in the clinic.
Many of the behavior problems encountered in dogs are problems that a primary care veterinarian can handle with the proper training and attention. I mention attention because behavioral consults take longer than normal appointments. The history of the problem and the dog’s role in the family take some time to dissect and elucidate. There are many (hundreds!) of other parts of the situation that the veterinarian needs to gain understanding. We now approach the reason why many vets do not like doing behavioral consultations: the time. They take time! While a typical appointment might take twenty minutes or so, behavioral consultations can take an hour or more. For some veterinarians, this is simply too much time talking to people, too much time out of their busy day, or too much time lost making money because they have not adjusted their fees to accommodate a behavior appointment.
I would encourage veterinary students to take time to understand the behavior problems of dogs and cats. Seek out a behavior professional that you trust and has a record of successful treatment of behavior problems. Important behavior issues pop up in more veterinary appointments than you would believe. With animal rescues becoming more and more common, behavior problems are going to keep increasing in their frequency at veterinary clinics. It is a simple supply and demand issue. Where do we fit in to meet this need? Will we step up to the plate as health care practitioners with every tool necessary to help right at our fingertips?