AVBIG’s guide to understanding behaviour medicine

The Australian Veterinary Behaviour Interest Group (AVBIG) has some great information on what to do when a client raises a behavioural problem, along with an explanation of the professionals you will find in the field of animal behaviour.

Behavioural medicine is the field of veterinary medicine that deals with mental illness in pets; however, many veterinarians feel uncomfortable providing advice regarding behavioural problems. AVBIG have developed the chart opposite to guide you through the options of treating a behavioural problem.

After ensuring there are no physical health issues contributing to the problem, the best place to start is by sympathising and reassuring the client that they have come to the right place.

Many behavioural problems are the clinical signs of psychological illness, just as scratching pruritic skin is a clinical sign of dermatological illness, and drinking excessively is a clinical sign for metabolic disease and other progressive problems.

As such, it is the duty of care of all veterinarians to provide appropriate treatment options for the patients in their care.

Professionals working in behavioural medicine

Veterinary Behaviour Specialists (post-nominals FANZCVS and/or DACVB and/or DipECAWBM)

These veterinarians have dedicated their career to studying behavioural medicine. They have done years of in-depth study and research and gained further experience in the area of behavioural medicine.

A specialist-in-training studies under a registered specialist and must see and manage a minimum of 300 behavioural cases. They must also research and publish in peer-reviewed journals and attend industry-related conferences. Once they have done this they are eligible to sit their examinations.

Depending on the institution conducting the examinations, the trainee may receive a Fellowship [FANZCVS (Veterinary Behaviour)] or become a Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviourists (DACVB) or a Diplomat of the European College of Animal Welfare and Behavioural Medicine (DipECAWBM). With any one of these qualifications, they may then register with veterinary boards as a ‘Registered Specialist’.

Veterinarians with postgraduate membership qualification in behavioural medicine (post-nominal MANZCVS)

These veterinarians have studied further in veterinary behavioural medicine and have passed examinations to be accepted into the veterinary behaviour chapter of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists.

Veterinarians who have completed continuing professional development in behavioural medicine

These veterinarians have an interest in helping animals with behavioural problems and have undertaken further study in the area of behavioural medicine, but have not completed any examinations.

Veterinary nurses and trainers

Some of the people working in these areas have an understanding of learning theory and can recognise animals that have behavioural illness. Referral should be made to a veterinarian in behavioural medicine if there is any concern that the animal is suffering from a mental health issue.

These people can assist with problems related to training and can also provide adjunctive help to owners on any behaviour modification that is recommended by a behavioural veterinarian.
Training should be using positive reinforcement methods only. Unlike the veterinary profession, the training industry is not tightly regulated and care should be taken when recommending which trainer to use. It is a serious animal health and welfare concern if referral to an unqualified trainer is recommended.

Professional association contacts

Sally Nixon
AVBIG Committee

This article appeared in the September 2017 issue of the Australian Veterinary Journal