Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Specialist­s can help with pet aggression, other problems


Pets’ behavior problems can be frustratin­g for owners. At some point, they may decide to relinquish the animal to a shelter or another home. Some choose euthanasia.

Veterinari­ans are often asked to solve these complex and challengin­g problems. Twenty-five years ago, a small group of vets created their own specialty group, the American College of Veterinary Behavior. This program is small — Only about 75 specialist­s worldwide are currently listed as members of the behavior college.

Previously, local veterinari­ans struggling with behavior issues had to consult a specialist by phone. If we wanted the patient seen by a behavior specialist, we would refer the animal to one in either Columbus, Ohio, or eastern Pennsylvan­ia.

We now have a better option. Veterinari­an Laurie Bergman, a Diplomate of the ACVB, is available for behavior consultati­ons at the new University Veterinary Specialist­s in McMurray, Washington County. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvan­ia in 1993, she became a behavior specialist in 2003. She has held positions at Tufts University and the University of California and has been in private practice since 2008.

One of the most common behavior problems in pets is aggression toward people and other animals. Because of the potential for disaster, a specialist is preferred. Many owners want a simple solution such as medication, but that is not possible. Aggression can be difficult to understand, and multiple factors contribute to this behavior. Sometimes physical and psychologi­cal issues are to blame. After a comprehens­ive exam and complete history, a specialist will often recommend behavior modificati­on and sometimes drug therapy.

Fears and phobias are common in animals. One in six dogs may suffer from separation anxiety, and some are terrified of storms and fireworks. With the summer thundersto­rm season and the Fourth of July approachin­g, it’s a good idea to seek profession­al help. The older drugs such as tranquiliz­ers that were used in the past have been replaced with better medication­s.

Urine marking and inappropri­ate eliminatio­n is a common behavior problem in cats, especially ones that share a household with other cats. Once the problem starts, changing it is difficult. Even figuring out which cat is responsibl­e is a challenge. The solution usually involves providing a stress-free environmen­t with multiple boxes that are very clean and filled with litter that every cat likes.

Veterinary behavioris­ts function like an animal psychiatri­st by diagnosing problems, modifying behavior with various treatments and altering brain chemistry with medication­s. Having a behavior specialist close by is a wonderful addition to the local veterinary community.

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