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Healthy Pets

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Finding Professional Help for Pet Behavior Problems

What’s in a Name? continued...

Veterinary Behaviorists

Knowledge of animal behavior isn’t required to earn a veterinary degree, and animal behavior isn’t comprehensively taught in most veterinary training programs. However, some veterinarians seek specialized education in animal behavior and earn certification through the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. To become a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (Dip ACVB), veterinarians must complete a residency in behavior and pass a qualifying examination.

In addition to having knowledge of domestic animal behavior and experience treating pet behavior problems, veterinary behaviorists can prescribe medications that can help speed along your pet’s treatment. Issues that often require the use of medication include separation anxiety, phobias, compulsive behaviors and fear of people, objects or other animals. You can find a list of veterinarians with ACVB certification at

What Behavior Experts DON’T Do

If your pet has a behavior problem, contacting a trainer or a behaviorist is a great first step on the road to resolution. However, some behavior problems can be caused or exacerbated by physical problems. If your nine-week-old puppy urinates on the kitchen floor when you’re not supervising him, he probably simply needs house training. But if your five-year-old dog who hasn’t made a mistake in the house for years suddenly starts urinating indoors, you might have a medical condition on your hands.

Trainers and behaviorists specialize in pet behavior problems. Only licensed veterinarians can diagnose medical conditions. If you think that your pet is sick, injured or experiencing any kind of physical distress, you don’t need a behavior expert—you need a veterinarian. Please contact one immediately. A delay in seeking proper veterinary care may worsen your pet's condition and put his life at risk. It’s especially important for a veterinarian to rule out illness or injury if your pet suddenly develops a behavior problem he’s never had before. It’s also a good idea to visit the veterinarian if you live with a senior animal. Uncharacteristic house soiling, aggression, lethargy, confusion, anxiety or restlessness can indicate a number of physical problems in older pets. Please see our articles on Behavior Problems in Older Dogs and Behavior Problems in Older Cats for more information.

If you’re concerned about the cost of veterinary care, you’ll find information about financial help on our website.

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