What does a veterinary behaviorist do?

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What is a Veterinary Behaviorist?

Veterinary behaviorists are specialized veterinarians with expertise in diagnosing and treating behavior problems in animals. These professionals undergo additional training beyond traditional veterinary education, focusing on the understanding of animal behavior and psychology. They work across various species, employing a combination of behavior modification techniques, environmental adjustments, and, when necessary, medication to address issues such as aggression, anxiety, fear, and compulsive behaviors. By combining their knowledge of veterinary medicine and animal behavior, they play an important role in improving the wellbeing of animals and fostering positive relationships between pets and their owners.

What does a Veterinary Behaviorist do?

A veterinary behaviorist assessing an aggressive dog.

Duties and Responsibilities
A day in the life of a veterinary behaviorist can vary based on their specific responsibilities and the types of cases they handle. Here's a generalized overview:

  • Consultations and Appointments – Review appointments and consultations scheduled. Conduct consultations with pet owners to gather information about the animal's behavior issues, medical history, living environment, and social interactions.
  • Behavior Assessments – Spend time observing and assessing the behavior of animals, possibly at a clinic or in the client's home. Use specialized knowledge to differentiate between medical and behavioral issues and identify and diagnose the root causes of behavioral problems.
  • Treatment Planning – Develop individualized intervention and treatment plans for each case, incorporating behavior modification techniques, training protocols, and environmental adjustments. Discuss treatment options with pet owners, addressing their concerns and ensuring they understand and can implement the recommended strategies.
  • Client Education – Educate pet owners on understanding their pets' behavior, implementing positive reinforcement techniques, and creating a conducive environment for behavioral improvement.
  • Collaboration with Veterinary Team – Work closely with other veterinary professionals to coordinate care, especially when there are medical aspects intertwined with behavioral issues. Consult with veterinary colleagues and researchers on cases that require a multidisciplinary approach.
  • Follow-Up Appointments – Conduct follow-up appointments to assess progress and make any necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.
  • Possible Outreach and Public Speaking – Participate in community outreach programs or give talks to educate the public about pet behavior and responsible ownership.
  • Emergency Cases – Be prepared to handle emergency cases or urgent situations that may require immediate attention.
  • Administrative Tasks – Document case notes and treatment plans. Respond to emails, phone calls, and inquiries from clients or referring veterinarians.
  • Research and Professional Development – Stay informed about the latest research and advancements in the field of veterinary behavior. Engage in continuous education to stay current with evolving treatment methods and scientific developments.

Types of Veterinary Behaviorists
Now that we have a sense of the scope of the veterinary behaviorist’s work, let’s look at some different types of veterinary behaviorists, often distinguished by their specific focus or areas of expertise within the field of animal behavior:

  • Companion Animal Behaviorists focus on addressing behavior issues in common household pets such as dogs, cats, birds, and small mammals.
  • Exotic Animal Behaviorists specialize in understanding and managing behavior problems in exotic pets, including birds, reptiles, and small mammals.
  • Equine Behaviorists concentrate on the behavior of horses, addressing issues such as aggression, fear, or anxiety in equine species.
  • Zoo Animal Behaviorists work with behavior issues in animals residing in zoos or wildlife conservation settings, dealing with a variety of species and complex environmental considerations.
  • Livestock Behaviorists specialize in the behavior of farm animals, including cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs, with a focus on improving welfare and handling practices.
  • Research-oriented Behaviorists engage in academic or scientific research related to animal behavior, contributing to our understanding of behavior on a broader scale.
  • Specialized Species Behaviorists focus on a specific species or group of animals, such as marine mammals or primates.

It's important to note that while there may be different emphases or specializations, the fundamental principles of veterinary behaviorists remain consistent across these categories. They all work to diagnose, understand, and treat behavior issues in animals while promoting the wellbeing of both the animals and their human caregivers.

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What is the workplace of a Veterinary Behaviorist like?

Veterinary behaviorists can work for various organizations and institutions, depending on their specific focus and expertise. These are among their most common employers:

  • Veterinary Hospitals and Clinics – Many veterinary behaviorists work in traditional veterinary hospitals and clinics. Their typical work environment is an office within the facility.
  • Animal Behavior Clinics – Some veterinary behaviorists may work in specialized animal behavior clinics that focus exclusively on diagnosing and treating behavior problems in animals.
  • Academic Institutions – Veterinary behaviorists often work in academic settings, such as veterinary schools or universities, where they split their time between teaching, conducting research, and providing clinical services. In these settings, veterinary behaviorists work in classrooms, laboratories, and offices.
  • Zoos and Wildlife Conservation Organizations – Zoos and wildlife organizations employ veterinary behaviorists to address the behavioral needs and challenges of animals in their care. Vets working in these environments may have offices on-site and spend time observing and interacting with animals in their care.
  • Animal Shelters and Rescue Organizations – Veterinary behaviorists may work with animal shelters and rescue organizations to assess and modify the behavior of animals, improving their chances of successful adoption. Their role typically involves working closely with shelter staff.
  • Government Agencies – Some veterinary behaviorists may work for government agencies where they contribute to policy development related to animal welfare, wildlife management, or public health. These vets often have offices in government buildings.
  • Pet Insurance Companies – In some cases, veterinary behaviorists may be employed or contracted by pet insurance companies to assist in assessing and managing behavior-related claims.
  • Private Practice and Consulting – Some veterinary behaviorists choose to operate private practices, offering consultations and services to pet owners, veterinarians, and organizations. These vets frequently have their own offices or workspaces. They may travel to clients’ homes or other facilities as needed.

Frequently Asked Questions



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Veterinary Behaviorist vs Animal Behaviorist

The terms "veterinary behaviorist" and "animal behaviorist" are often used to describe professionals who work with animals to address behavioral issues, but they differ in their qualifications, training, and the scope of their practice.

Veterinary Behaviorist

  • Qualifications: A veterinary behaviorist is a veterinarian who has pursued additional training and specialization in animal behavior. They typically hold a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) or Veterinary Medical Doctor (VMD) degree and have completed a residency in veterinary behavior. Many veterinary behaviorists also obtain board certification through the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB).
  • Scope of Practice: Veterinary behaviorists are uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat complex behavioral issues in animals. They consider medical factors that may contribute to behavioral problems and may incorporate pharmacological interventions when necessary. Their focus is often on companion animals, addressing behavioral issues in the context of overall health.
  • Work Setting: Veterinary behaviorists can work in veterinary hospitals, clinics, or universities. They collaborate with pet owners, referring veterinarians, and other professionals to provide comprehensive behavioral care.

Animal Behaviorist

  • Qualifications: The term "animal behaviorist" is broader and can refer to professionals with various educational backgrounds. Some animal behaviorists may have advanced degrees (e.g., Master's or Ph.D.) in Animal Behavior, Psychology, or a related field. Others may have certifications in animal behavior from recognized organizations, and their expertise may come from hands-on experience.
  • Scope of Practice: Animal behaviorists may work with a wide range of animals, including companion animals, farm animals, zoo animals, and wildlife. They focus on understanding and modifying behavior through non-medical approaches such as training, environmental enrichment, and behavior modification techniques. Their practice may extend to areas like animal training, consulting, and research.
  • Work Setting: Animal behaviorists can work in diverse settings, including animal shelters, zoos, research institutions, training facilities, and private practice. They may work with individual pet owners, animal organizations, or institutions with a focus on behavior.

In summary, a veterinary behaviorist is a specialized type of animal behaviorist who is also a veterinarian, combining medical knowledge with expertise in behavior. On the other hand, an animal behaviorist may have various educational backgrounds and can work with different species, often focusing on non-medical approaches to address behavioral issues. The choice between the two depends on the specific needs of the animal and the nature of the behavioral challenges involved.

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