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Behavioral Medicine

Our Behavioral Medicine Specialist

Jacqueline Wilhelmy

MS, VMD, DACVB, CCBC-KA

Veterinary behavioral medicine is a field of veterinary medicine dedicated to preventing and treating behavior problems in domestic animals. Its goal is to improve the safety and quality of life of pets, their owners, and the general public. Behavioral medicine is evidence-based, which means that the diagnosis and treatment of behavior problems are founded in science’s current understanding of learning, genetics, physiology, and neurology.

Some undesirable behaviors in companion animals are voluntary in origin; this means that the pet performs the behavior either because doing so provides them with a desirable outcome, or not doing so results in an undesirable outcome. For instance, a dog may pull on walks because pulling has been reinforced by movement forward and the opportunity to sniff many interesting odors. Other undesirable behaviors are based in involuntary and sometimes pronounced emotional responses, such as fear and/or stress. As veterinary professionals, behaviorists also evaluate each pet for medical conditions that may contribute to or even cause behavior problems.

Behaviorists treat problems stemming from both voluntary and involuntary causes. The former may include common but undesirable behaviors such as inappropriate toileting, scratching furniture, and inappropriate play in cats. In dogs, it may include lack of housetraining, jumping up, stealing objects, mouthing, barking, pulling on the lead, and failure to come when called. Many of these issues can also be addressed by a knowledgeable and humane trainer. Importantly, however, veterinary behaviorists also diagnose and treat problems that derive from stress or fear: separation-related distress, confinement-related distress, marking, inappropriate elimination, aggression, predatory behavior, generalized anxiety disorder, inappropriate social skills, and noise and thunderstorm fear.

Our goal is to help you understand your dog or cat’s behavior and enable both pet and owner to lead safer, happier lives.