Illness doesn't always have a physical cause. Your pet's behavior is one of the nonverbal ways to tell you how he or she is feeling. VCA Loomis Basin Veterinary Clinic understands that correctly interpreting different kinds of behaviors is an important diagnostic tool.

A well-trained dog or cat that starts to exhibit inappropriate eliminations in your home or outside the litter box may have a medical problem or may have a behavior problem that could respond to appropriate medical therapy. Similarly, excessive licking, noise phobias, separation anxiety, and other undesirable behaviors may be caused by an underlying behavior disorder.

Just like people, some pets need extra help to be their best. Loomis Basin works with Dr. Leslie Cooper, a board-certified animal behaviorist, who helps determine the cause of such disorders as separation anxiety and obsessive behavior, and then develops a treatment regimen for the pet. This specialty care can help your pet return to the 'good citizen' he or she had been in the past.

Please complete this questionnaire before your appointment with Dr. Cooper, and either e-mail it to her at [email protected] or fax it to (916) 652-5975 in advance of the appointment.

What Is A Veterinary Behaviorist?

A veterinary behaviorist is a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of behavior problems in pets. The specialty of veterinary behavior is equivalent to human psychiatry, and veterinary behaviorists are, in effect, animal psychiatrists. Similar to human psychiatrists, veterinary behaviorists have received many years of specialized education and have passed a rigorous board-certification examination in order to treat your pet. Veterinary behaviorists use behavior modification techniques, environmental and lifestyle changes, and psychoactive medication when appropriate in order to manage behavior problems. As trained veterinarians, veterinary behaviorists also have the medical knowledge to determine whether an underlying medical condition is responsible for your pet's behavioral change. Medical problems almost always have behavioral consequences, but not every behavior change is due to a medical problem - veterinary behaviorists are uniquely trained to recognize and treat both.

Your general practitioner veterinarian can diagnose and treat many routine behavior problems; however, many behavior issues require the care of a doctor who has had specialized, intensive training in veterinary behavior in order to provide the very best outcome for your pet. The treatment of behavior cases requires a very careful accounting of the pet's past history, both medical and behavioral, and his or her current lifestyle. It is important to really understand your pet's emotional and psychological needs and deficits in order to gain insight into the solutions to the issues that concern you.

What is the Difference between a Veterinary Behaviorist and a Trainer?

Veterinary behavior treatment goes far above and beyond basic obedience training. Trainers commonly teach commands such as 'sit' or 'stay.' To a veterinary behaviorist, however, teaching commands may be just a small part of a larger treatment program designed to address a pet's behavior issue, whether it be aggression or house soiling. While a trainer's primary goal is to get a pet simply to act a certain way, a veterinary behaviorist's primary goal is to understand why a pet misbehaves in order to create a personalized, comprehensive treatment plan to address the underlying cause of the behavior problem. Addressing the fundamental reason for misbehavior, rather than attempting to 'train away' the problem, typically leads to longer-lasting results.

Veterinary behaviorists are qualified to provide you with the correct diagnosis and state-of-the-art treatment of your pet's behavior problem. A veterinary behaviorist is also best able to determine whether your pet may benefit from behavior-modifying medication or if a medical problem may be a contributing factor.

Many non-professionals claim to be 'animal behaviorists' but lack the education, scientific knowledge, experience and training of a veterinary behaviorist. Unfortunately no governing body regulates who may call themselves an 'animal behaviorist' or 'trainer.' While some non-veterinary behaviorists and trainers are experienced and educated, there are many others who possess no formal education or proper understanding of animal behavior and may utilize unproven, outdated or even inhumane training techniques to achieve short-term results. By consulting and working with a veterinary behaviorist, your pet will be receiving the highest standard of care from a certified professional.

Frequently Asked Questions

Be sure to bring any relevant medical records or information to your first appointment. Your veterinary behaviorist may require copies of any recent medical tests, imaging studies, x-rays, or laboratory panels. You also can do your part to maximize your pet's recovery by strictly adhering to the recommendations of your veterinary team for the scheduling of any follow up appointments.

Routine behavior problems can frequently be handled by your general practitioner veterinarian. The conditions listed below, however, frequently require the attention of a specialist.

House soiling or house training problems
Litter box refusal or rejection
Aggressiveness toward people, including children
Aggressive conflicts between housemates
Nipping and unruly puppies or kittens
Difficulties introducing new pets
Separation anxiety syndrome
Fears and phobias
Compulsive behaviors
Seizure-related behavior problems
Geriatric behavior problems in aging cats and dogs


Just like a psychiatrist, veterinarians who specialize in veterinary behavior acquire additional, intensive training to become a specialist. Prestigious specialty status is granted by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB). There are only a few dozen veterinary specialists in all of North America. A veterinarian who has received this specialty status will list the initials DACVB (Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists) after his or her veterinary degree. The word -Diplomate- typically means the specialist has achieved the following:

  • Obtained a traditional 8-year veterinary degree (four years of college plus four years of veterinary school).
  • Usually has completed a one-year internship in small animal medicine and surgery.
  • Completed an additional residency in veterinary behavior at a university veterinary hospital.
  • Completed the credentialing application process established by the ACVB, which includes publishing credits, case reports, and a resume.
  • Passed a rigorous, 20 hour written examination conducted over 2 days.

After completing and passing all of the above, his or her peers recognize the veterinarian as a board certified specialist in veterinary behavior. As you can see, when your pet needs the specialized care of a veterinary behaviorist, the intensive training and additional education will provide you and your pet with the best treatment and the greatest chance of successfully resolving the behavior problem you are trying to overcome. Forming a team with an experienced veterinary behaviorist is the best way to deal with a misbehaving pet.

Your veterinary behaviorist will advise your veterinarian of any recommended treatment and your veterinarian will continue to be involved as part of your pet's total veterinary health care team. Your general practitioner veterinarian will still oversee all aspects of your pet's care, but with the added, specialized input of a veterinary behaviorist. For example, if a veterinary behaviorist discovers that your pet has thyroid disease, this clinical diagnosis is relayed immediately to your general practitioner veterinarian, who will treat your pet's thyroid disease. The veterinary behaviorist will also give you a treatment plan to follow that will help to resolve the behavioral problems your pet exhibited that were associated with the discovered medical condition.