Some content adapted from work by Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVB, Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist. Florida Veterinary Behavior Service. Used with permission.
Q: Why does a full diagnostic behavior appointment take an hour?A: Behavior problems are often complex because genetics, environment, and learning can impact an animal’s behavior at any given point in its life. It takes time to determine which factors are at play and make the correct diagnosis. We also want to allow adequate time to explain what is going on with your pet and how you can treat it.
Q: No one else has been able to help my pet. How do I know that can help?A: Many owners believe t their pet’s problem is unique or so severe or rare that it cannot be treated. Rest assured that most pet behavior problems can be treated, and Dr. Berger and the Behavior Team have seen most behavior problems previously. Before evaluating your pet, we can’t tell you how your pet’s exact problem will be treated but, while not every problem can be cured, most can be treated and managed so that you and your pet can have a better quality of life.
Q: Why do I have to fill out the pre-appointment History Form?A: There are at least five components to any behavior case: the pet, the pet’s health, the environment, the animals and people with whom the pet interacts, and the behaviors pet has learned over the course of his or her life. In order to solve the mystery, we need to understand all these issues. If we gathered this information at the time of the initial appointment, it would take twice as long and double the cost of the appointment. The pre-appointment History Form allows us to collect essential information in an easy-to-use format that Dr. Berger and the Behavior Team can review beforehand so the appointment time can be used more effectively.
Q: Are follow-up appointments necessary?A: Follow-up appointments may be necessary depending on the animal’s specific diagnosis, the severity and chronicity of the pet’s disorder, the owner’s goals, and the course of treatment. When you meet with Dr. Berger or the Behavior Team, they will assess your pet and discuss whether follow-up appointments will be necessary. For most behavior issues, control can be achieved within several months. When your goals go beyond simply managing your pet’s behavior or in more severe cases where psychogenic medications are prescribed, follow-up appointments are often necessary.
Q: What should I bring to my appointment?A: Bring all pets that are involved in the behavior problem. For example, if two of your cats are fighting, you should bring both cats to the appointment. Also, bring your pet’s favorite treats, a toy, a bed or mat for your pet to rest on, and a log of your pet’s negative behavior for the seven days preceding the appointment.
Q: What should I do before the appointment?A: Prior to your appointment, please fill out a History Form for each pet that is involved in the problem behavior. You can download the Form by clicking here. If you would like the questionnaire mailed, emailed or faxed to you, please contact us by phone at 415-554-3000 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . The Form must be received at least 72 hours prior to your pet’s appointment to hold your appointment time. You can return the Form(s) by faxing it to 415-962-2495, mailing it to201 Rescue Row, San Francisco, CA 94103, Attn: Dr. Berger, or by emailing it to email@example.com. Videotape your pet’s undesirable behavior if it is safe to do so and send the videotape or DVD to the address above. Do not provoke aggressive behavior or do anything that may cause harm to you, your pet, or another person or the pet in order to make the videotape. Finally, call your pet’s primary care veterinarian and ask them to fax your pet’s medical records to the Behavior Team at 415-962-2495.
Q: Do I have to get a videotape of my pet’s behavior to be seen for an appointment?A: No, you do not have to videotape your pet’s behavior to be seen for an appointment. It can be helpful to see your pet’s actual behavior in the environment in which it lives, but it is not absolutely necessary and you should never provoke aggressive behavior to make a videotape
Q: What is the treatment success rate?A: The treatment success rate varies depending on the pet’s diagnosis, environment and the duration of the problem. When you meet with Dr. Berger or the Behavior Team, they will discuss your pet’s diagnosis, treatment plan and prognosis.
Q: Will medication cure my pet’s behavior problem?A: Behavior problems are rarely cured by medication alone. Instead, medications help the animal to focus, be less afraid and less anxious so they are better able to learn the prescribed behavior modification. Ideally, medication helps reduce anxiety, but behavior modification will be necessary to permanently address negative behaviors.
Q: How often are medications prescribed for animal behavior problems?A: Medications are frequently used in veterinary behavioral medicine as an adjunct to treatment; however, they are not always necessary or recommended. The decision to use a medication is based on many factors, including the pet’s specific diagnosis, the duration of the problem, and the environment in which the pet lives.
Q: Will medication change my pet’s personality?A: The medications that are used as part of a veterinary behavior treatment plan are not typically intended to “drug” or sedate the pet. Your pet should retain his or her personality. If the medications are effective, your pet will be calmer and less fearful. The goal of using medications as an adjunct to behavior modification and environmental changes is to help the animal focus, learn and adjust to the changes being made. This cannot happen effectively if the pet is sedated. While short-term use of sedatives is appropriate for some behavior problems, it is not a permanent solution.
Q: If medications are prescribed, how long will my pet be on medication for his or her behavior problem?A: It depends on the severity of your pet’s problem, the environment in which your pet lives, and your pet’s response to other parts of the treatment plan. Some pets may stay on medication for life. Regular re-checks to monitor your pet’s progress will be necessary to determine the effectiveness of the medication and periodic bloodwork will be required to monitor organ function.
Q: How effective are the medications that you use to treat behavior problems?A: There is no one medication that is effective for all animals. The success rate depends on many things, including the pet’s specific problem, their genetics, and their individual physiology. When you meet with Dr. Berger, she will discuss which medications may be appropriate for your pet’s individual behavior problem and how effective they may be for your pet.
Q: What methods do you use for behavior modification?A: Dr. Berger and the Behavior Team use reward-based training, using whatever motivates your pet to exhibit more desirable behavior. Toys, food, catnip, attention, or freedom to run in the backyard can all be used as rewards to achieve appropriate behaviors. Dr. Berger and the Behavior Team will help choose the most effective, humane method for your pet. They will never ask you to hold down, hit, use pain, intimidation, or force to train your pet.
Q: What is the difference between training and behavior modification?A: Obedience training is done to teach basic behaviors and change unruly behaviors. Behavior modification is intended to change the animal’s emotional state. Many times the undesirable behaviors we see in pets are some type of coping mechanism to deal with an underlying fear or anxiety. Behavior modification addresses the underlying motivation for the behavior and attempts to change it by associating the fear, anxiety or situation with something positive.
Q: My dog has been through a lot of training already and he isn’t any better. How is what you do different?A: Obedience training helps you control your dog when he or she is unruly or disobedient. When your dog or cat has a more serious behavior problem, such as aggression, you need to modify the behavior because it is often the result of an underlying fear.
Q: I'm afraid I'll be told I have to euthanize my pet. Do you ever recommend euthanasia for behavior problems?A: The decision to euthanize your pet is a personal, heart-wrenching decision. Dr. Berger does not feel that it is her place to tell a person when to euthanize their pet. She will tell you very honestly what the risks are, what the prognosis is, and what you can or cannot do to improve the problem. With that information, you will be able to make an informed decision that is appropriate for your family and your pet.
Q: Can aggression be cured?A: Aggression is treatable. In the majority of cases, aggression can be managed effectively to reduce the likelihood of bites, increase the safety of those who interact with the animal, and keep the animal in its original home for its lifetime, but it is not “cured.” There will always be a chance that an animal will act aggressively again, even if that chance is very small.
Q: Can you guarantee that my dog will not bite again after treatment?A: Just as we cannot guarantee what each of us will do in the future, we can guarantee that your dog will not bite again regardless of the treatment. With proper treatment, your dog will learn to make the correct choices and, in this way, you can greatly reduce the likelihood of further aggression.
Q: My dog is well trained and obedient with me so, but aggressive in other situations?A: Aggression is seldom about a particular dog’s obedience to the owner. That is why basic obedience, while an important part of every dog’s life, is not a cure for aggression. The root cause of aggressive behavior often goes much deeper and it is usually caused by fear, defensiveness, conflict or anxiety.
Q: How often to do you treat aggressive animals?A: Aggression is the most common canine behavior problem seen by veterinary behaviorists across the United States and Canada. Aggression cases typically constitute about 80% to85% of a typical veterinary behaviorist’s practice. Dr. Berger’s practice is no different. Among her canine patients, aggression is the most common owner complaint. Among feline patients, aggression is the second most common complaint, after inappropriate elimination.
Q: My pet bit someone. Should my pet stay with my family? And can my pet become a good family member again?A: Aggression in dogs is common. In the vast majority of cases, it can be treated effectively with hard work, appropriate treatment and, if needed, medications. In Dr. Berger’s experience, more than 90% of dogs who are treated appropriately stay with their original family. During an evaluation, and speak honestly to you about the risks of keeping your pet in your home, what you can do to remedy the situation, and the likelihood that treatment will be successful. With this information, you can make an informed choice about whether you should keep your pet in your home.
Q: What is your success rate?A: As noted above, success depends on many factors, including the diagnosis, owner compliance, the severity and chronicity of the disease, and the dog’s environment. Typically owners have reported a dramatic decrease in aggression when the behavior modification plan is followed.