Veterinarians already work within the realm of the concept of “prevention is better than cure” and by offering preventative services for behaviour issues they can embrace this ethos for the mental wellbeing of the patient too. Throughout the pet’s life the veterinarian can offer a holistic behavioural approach that addresses the prevention of problems associated with each life stage and seeks to diagnose problems as early as possible. Families visiting the veterinarian for the pet’s annual health check should discuss any behaviour questions and issues with the veterinarian before it affects their relationship with their pets. If the veterinarian is not comfortable with addressing these questions they can refer the client to a local trusted veterinary behaviourist or animal behaviourist.
Pet selection consultations
Veterinarians can help the family to make the right decision regarding a first time pet or an addition to a home that already has pets. These types of consultations encourage families to consider the commitment involved with adopting a pet and can encourage the family to explore options such as a pet medical aid and puppy schools/kitten socialisation classes that the pet can be enrolled in as early as possible. The goal of this type of consult is to prevent problems that come from families that select a breed or type of animal that may not be compatible with their lifestyle. The other goal is to manage expectations; the expectations of the family for the pet while still meeting the pet’s needs.
Puppy classes / Kitten socialisation
Social species are born with the capacity to learn species-specific social skills, not with the specific skills themselves. Families may not be aware that the window for the socialisation period in both puppies and kittens is short and is already in effect at the time of adoption. Families that wait until the puppy or kitty is 16 or 8 weeks old respectively will have missed a vital opportunity for influencing the pet’s psychological development. In cats, appropriate experience with their own species is critical to the development of appropriate social behaviour. Cats that are adopted as kittens and isolated from other cats miss important learning and social bonding experiences that happen during late kittenhood and the juvenile period. These cats may become asocial, exhibiting a dysfunctional lack of knowledge of how to interact appropriately with their own species. If later attempts are made to introduce another cat, such asocial individuals are likely to exhibit uninhibited aggression or excessive fear of the newcomer, fail to recognize species specific signals of greeting, dominance or submission and fail to respond in a species-appropriate manner.
Animals undergo most of their development in the first 3 years of life. Sexual maturity and social maturity occur at different times and involve different behavioural development. This may result in behaviour problems especially in multi dog or multi-cat households. Dogs have also reached their adult size at this stage and may become more difficult to manage. Owners may reduce the frequency of walking their dog or may cease all together if they animal becomes too unruly, this can lead to boredom and other behavioural issues at home. By dealing with these problems before they become insurmountable hurdles, the veterinarian can help in reducing the risk of relinquishment or euthanasia of the problem pet.
Families who are expecting a baby may be so focused on the preparations for the new baby that they may forget to consider the impact that this event may have on their pet.
The veterinarian should provide some general advice regarding the introduction of the baby to the pets in the household but can also suggest a separate consultation if the families have specific concerns or are worried about the situation.
Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) is an under-diagnosed condition in aged pets with up to 85% of potentially affected animals failing to be identified. A simple checklist regarding the symptoms of CCD can be completed by owners of older pets and if there are 2 or more signs of CCD, the veterinarian should be contacted regarding the need for a referral appointment or a change in diet and lifestyle.