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Canine behaviour medicine in UK small animal practice

02 February 2022
10 mins read
Volume 13 · Issue 1
Figure 1. Benefits and barriers to the delivery of behaviour medicine in general veterinary practice.


Despite the advancements in the field of veterinary behaviour medicine, problem behaviours remain a leading cause for canine relinquishment and euthanasia in the UK and so should be of concern to veterinary professionals. This review aimed to critically evaluate the literature on the perceptions of the veterinary care team, including the veterinary practitioner and the veterinary nurse, of their roles in canine behaviour medicine. Additionally, the review discussed barriers to the delivery of behavioural medicine in practice and subsequently examined the benefits of applying a behaviour-centered approach to care. Despite revisions to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons curricula, inadequate behavioural training during undergraduate studies was identified as a primary barrier to the provision of behaviour support in practice by veterinarians and veterinary nurses. Furthermore, veterinary professionals frequently identified a lack of time to discuss, educate and diagnose behavioural problems. However, should the barriers to the provision of behavioural medicine be addressed, current literature suggests that the benefits of applying behaviour medicine to practice may include financial growth for the practice, workplace safety, improved perception from clients and ultimately improved animal welfare.

Despite advancements in the field of veterinary behaviour medicine, undesirable behaviours remain a leading cause of rehoming, relinquishment, and shelter euthanasia in the UK (Diesel et al, 2010; O'Neil et al, 2013; Boyd et al, 2018; Murray et al, 2021). The correlation between undesirable behaviours and canine relinquishment has persisted over several decades, and yet the literature has consistently demonstrated that routine behavioural assessment and canine behaviour management fail to be a standard of care in companion animal practice (Hetts et al, 2004; Christiansen and Forkman, 2007; Roshier and McBride, 2013a; Calder et al, 2017).

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic the UK reported 3.2 million newly acquired pets (Pet Food Manufacturers' Association (PFMA), 2021). Given the imposed lockdown restrictions to veterinary care (British Veterinary Association (BVA), 2021) and the surge in pet acquisition, the availability for veterinary behavioural support was further compromised. In response, impacts on canine health, behaviour and welfare were anticipated by the veterinary community (Dogs Trust, 2020; Christley et al, 2021; Holland et al, 2021). Concerns were substantiated following the results of the Dogs Trust (2020) COVID-19 assessment survey which found over a quarter of canine owners reported a new undesirable behaviour. Coincidingly, within the last 2 years, UK veterinary professionals have reported a 53% increase in dog owners seeking behavioural support, with 57% of practitioners reporting an increase in the number of behavioural cases seen (People's Dispensary of Sick Animals (PDSA), 2020).

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