How do we practice VBM?

A VBM consultation is different from a visit to your regular veterinarian. During your appointment a comprehensive history form will be completed by the behaviourist. Appointments are much longer than regular visits to your veterinarian or veterinary specialist, and usually take approximately 2-3 hours. You will also find that veterinary behaviourist spend a lot of time taking a detailed history in order to understand your animal’s behaviour. For example, you will be asked to describe how your animal spends its days, the behaviour problem in detail as well as when it first occurred, when it tends to occur and what you have tried to do to stop or manage the behaviour. Sometimes other problems are identified while the history is being obtained.

A diagnosis is made that describes each problem identified in the history. The diagnoses are explained thoroughly as understanding these are important to understanding how to manage your pet’s problem. Prognosis is also discussed and a treatment and management plan presented that is tailored to your individual situation.

Treatment programs are designed to manage the triggers for the behaviour problem. Behaviour problems are generally never cured but can, in many cases, be significantly improved with management. Management has three parts: environmental management, behaviour modification and medication (which may not be used in every case), which together take into account the animal and the environment in which it lives.

Environmental management involves altering the animal’s environment to minimize the potential to display the problem behaviour and maximize positive behaviour. You may be asked to alter your animal’s exercise program or block its access to parts of your house.

The behaviour modification exercises you are given are designed to help manage the animal and help it learn calm, relaxed behaviour. The exercises are demonstrated and practiced during the consultation so you are able to implement them at home.

Some animals also need medication to help manage their behaviour. Just like diabetic animals need insulin to help their bodies work properly, some animals need medication that alters specific neurochemicals within their brain to help the body work properly.

Some problem behaviours may seem ‘not that important’ but can be pre-cursors to more serious problems, or may indicate an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. Your trainer or veterinarian has had experience with lots of different dogs, and can recognize behaviour that is different or unusual. Just like people, your pet may have an excessively high level of anxiety, or may have abnormal or inappropriate responses to other animals, people or noises.

What are Veterinary Behaviourists and Registered Veterinary Specialists in Veterinary Behavioural Medicine?

Veterinary behaviourists are veterinarians who have a acquired membership of the Australian College of Veterinary Science in VBM by examination. They have first studied veterinary medicine at University for a minimum of 5 years where they studied the healthy as well as the unwell animal. They have then have added to their knowledge by studying the behaviour of animals, how animals learn and the causes, diagnosis, and management and treatment options for behaviour problems such as anxiety disorders and aggressive behaviours as well as management techniques for common problem behaviours. Before they can sit the membership examinations, they must have been in veterinary practice for a minimum of 5 years.

A registered veterinary specialist in veterinary behavioural medicine is a veterinarian who undertaken further extensive study and research in veterinary behavioural medicine and been extensively examined in their knowledge of this field. They register with their veterinary board as a specialist.

Veterinary Behavioural Medicine (VBM)

Barking, digging, biting, scratching, spraying and grooming may all be normal behaviours. But sometimes, some animals display these behaviours in an abnormal manner. For example they might exhibit a behaviour too often, such as grooming themselves excessively. Or they may exhibit a behaviour in an inappropriate place, for example housesoiling or at an inappropriate time, perhaps barking when left alone. Sometimes the behaviour displayed is abnormal and these include behaviours such as snapping at flies that are not there or circling incessantly. When a behaviour falls into these categories it is possible the animal is displaying a behaviour problem.

Behaviour problems in animals are hard to cope with and can be life threatening for the animal, especially if aggression is the problem. All animals can have behaviour problems including companion pets such as dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, horses as well as farm animals and animals in zoos and oceanariums. Veterinary Behavioural Medicine can help.

What is Veterinary Behavioural Medicine (VBM)?

VBM is a branch of veterinary medicine that is concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems in animals. Behaviour problems are not due to lack of training or inappropriate training or owners not being assertive enough. Behaviour problems are medical conditions and they are often due to neurochemical imbalances.

VBM brings together information from several disciplines so covers a broad range of knowledge. Understanding the healthy and unhealthy animal is paramount as diseases cause changes in behaviour that range from the obvious, such as crying due to pain, to the more subtle for example being excessively quiet.

A thorough knowledge of behaviour that is normal for each species of animal presented is required. Different individuals have different requirements for company, activity and rest which need to be supplied for their health and welfare. Understanding how they react to stress is also important to understand their behaviour problems. Additionally, knowledge of brain function, learning and memory allows the diagnosis of problem behaviour causes and treatment plans to be formulated to help affected animals.