Dog eating mail


Few owners are lucky enough to get through a pet’s entire lifetime without experiencing some training- or behavior-related issues.

And sometimes these issues can get intensely problematic, which is when board-certified veterinary behaviorists become an alluring alternative to your regular veterinarian’s ministrations.

Sure, trainers and nonveterinary behaviorists can be great — they often devote lengthy amounts of time to working on behavior problems — but there are some limitations. They don’t have the medical training to know when physical issues may be causing behavioral problems, and they can’t prescribe medications when needed. Plus, many concentrate their efforts almost exclusively on dogs, leaving feline lovers in the lurch.

But board certification means that all pet owners can rely on these specialists to help solve even the most impressive pet behavior problems.

Specialists like Dr. Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVB, my go-to veterinary behaviorist who helped me come up with nine reasons why your veterinarian might recommend seeing someone like her.

1. You Need . . . Expert Insight

Sure, you’ve cried on your vet’s shoulder over the frustrating things that Fluffy is wont to do, but there’s only so much that he can help you with — general practice veterinarians know a good deal about a broad range of medical issues, but veterinary behaviorists are specialists who not only have veterinary degrees but also additional years of education just focused on behavior. So they have the expertise to dissect the important factors, and then make plans to address the unruly issues.

2. You Need . . . Help With Aggression

Aggressive behaviors are often accompanied by a physiologic response, and understanding how the physiology of the behavior affects what the animal does is essential to helping such pets. If your dog or cat has bitten someone, you should definitely talk to your vet about seeking help from a board-certified behaviorist. 

3. You Need . . . Medication for Your Ill-Behaved Pet

Medications can be very beneficial when used in conjunction with behavior modification and environmental changes. A veterinary behaviorist has extensive experience with such medications, and can monitor their effects in conjunction with other parts of the treatment plan, making adjustments as necessary.

4. You Need  . . . Truly Unique Advice

Let’s say that your pet has an unusual or uncommon behavior problem — like a dog who attacks photographs (I’ve seen this!) or who takes an amorous interest in household cats (yes, really). Who else to help you sort through such freaky issues than a veterinary behaviorist, who’s read all the obscure research?

5. You Need . . . Someone Who Can Handle Additional Complications

What if your pet has other ongoing medical problems that complicate treatment? Since board-certified veterinary behaviorists are veterinarians first and foremost, they understand how medical diseases can affect behavior, as well as how medications used to treat those conditions can influence an animal’s behavior — and how behavior medications can impact diseases.

6. You Need . . . Advice on Whether to Re-home

Before considering re-homing or potentially unnecessary euthanasia, every owner should have a pet evaluated by a true behavior expert. You may be surprised to learn that there’s hope. How can you give up when there’s an expert out there whose job it is to keep potential re-homing or euthanasia scenarios like yours from happening?

7. You Need . . . Help With a Self-Destructive Pet

Disorders such as storm phobias and separation anxiety can often result in nasty injuries. Broken teeth and fractured claws are especially common when pets try hard to escape the confines of their owners’ best intentions. When pets who act out hurt themselves, your vet may refer you to a veterinary behavior specialist for extended behavior modification therapy.

8. You Need . . . to Address Quality-of-Life Issues

Pets with severe fears, compulsions and confusions don’t enjoy life. They may not even want to walk outside, eat a normal meal or even go on car rides they once loved. When your pet’s quality of life takes a serious turn, you’re the one who knows it. And that’s when it’s time to speak to your veterinarian about possibly consulting a vet behaviorist.

9. You Need . . . to Make Better Progress

If your pet is under treatment for a behavior problem but hasn’t made significant headway within three months, then you should probably take it to the next level. Since most behavior patients show some improvement in this amount of time, and you’ve been working hard with a trainer and a veterinarian — all to no avail — then maybe (just maybe) it’s time to go see The Wizard.