Most animals are relinquished to shelters because of behavioral issues. Many clients simply tolerate unwanted behaviors in their pets, while you and your staff are often stressed by poor patient behavior in the clinic. And it doesn’t stop there. Studies have documented the impact of emotional and mental health in animals on physical ailments. Addressing these issues can provide a major income source for your practice, and also increase client retention. The key is to create a receptionist-technician-veterinarian team to identify problem animals, treat them, then follow up on a regular basis.
Starting conversations with clients when they first acquire young animals or adopt older ones is mandatory if your goal is to maximize patient health in your practice. You probably already suggest basic training classes, or perhaps offer them at your clinic. You also suggest treatments for animals with specific behavior problems or refer them to specialists.
Three approaches can improve your success in this area:
- Therapeutic product sales
- Classes and associated services – Reiki, Tellington T-Touch, massage, basic training, “handle me”
- Treatment with holistic modalities.
1. Therapeutic products that help with emotional and behavioral issues
Create a sales strategy based on the behavior problems you see in your clinic. Start with “Build Good Behavior”, then move to treatment of specific behavior problems. I’ll cover a few common conditions and some products that would help. Companies will be mentioned below, and you will discover more as you read and learn about different modalities. Articles in IVC journal, Animal Wellness, Equine Wellness and JAHVMA, along with speakers at the annual AHVMA conference address in more detail the different modalities for treating training and behavior issues.
Begin by looking at the companies you already order from. They may have behavior products you have not considered. For example, you may be using VeteriScience’s Glycoflex, but have never ordered Composure (for calming, barking, help with training). Next, pick one of the following categories and explore the different companies whose products address that approach
I would suggest starting with these since there are never any side effects and the products are labeled for their use (e.g. Scaredy Cat, Training, Anxiety, Aggression, etc.).Flower essences: There are many companies that offer flower essences, including Bach, Living Tree Orchid Essences, Perelandra and the Flower Essence Society (for training). If you’re looking for essences labeled for specific animal problems you can check out Jackson Galaxy Essences, Green Hope Essences, Anaflora (the formulator is also an animal intuitive), Pet Essences and Alaskan Essences.
These are excellent for emotional problems and can facilitate learning as well.
Good quality is essential, even within reputable companies. Some study is needed to learn how to select oils, how to use them with cats, and their multiple uses for physical and behavioral issues. You can find out more from the Veterinary Medical Aromatherapy Association, Dr. Melissa Shelton (animalEO) and Doterra.
Oils can be administered multiple ways, including orally, on collars or crates, or through petting and diffusion. One good source of these support products is Blue Sky Textiles.
Mellow Dog Essential Oil Spray and Blend by LifeFORCE Pet Health are formulated to soothe dogs in times of stress. Its counterpart, Mellow Cat, has been safely tested on felines.
It’s proving to offer amazing results for anxiety and stress problems, along with its many physical benefits. Check out books and products by Dr. Robert Silver at Well Pet Dispensary, or look into Therabis’ Calm and Quiet, or oils from the Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary.
They can be used in two main ways: individual herbs chosen from your studies, and combinations labeled for specific behavior problems. Again, quality is critical. Are the herbs raised organically and sustainably? If wild-crafted (harvested from the wild), is it being done in a sustainable way?
Many courses are available, on-ine and onsite, from the Veterinary Botanical Medical Association (VBMA), the College of Veterinary Botanical Medicine and the College of Integrative Veterinary Therapies.
When purchasing herbal combinations, be sure ask about sourcing. Greg Tilford of Animals’ Apawthecary is a leader in the herbal field for animals, and his combination herbal products are labeled for specific conditions; he has also authored an excellent book, Herbs for Pets.
Herbalist & Alchemist has high quality single herbs and has been a regular vendor for decades at the AHVMA conferences. Other companies to check out include Veterinary Botanicals and Pet Wellness Blends.
These are often needed, especially when pets are on a commercial diet. Again, quality is critical, as is palatability. Herbs or oils are often included in nutritional supplements. VetzLife, Rx Vitamins (products include vitamins and herbs, including hemp), Nutramax, Vet Classics and VetriScience are some examples of quality supplement companies.
2. Building basic good behavior with training and education
Our clients and staff often struggle because many dogs and cats are fearful or aggressive in the clinic, or will not let their feet, ears, mouth, belly, etc. be examined or treated, often even at home. They may have trouble riding in the car to and from the clinic (or anywhere else). Addressing this during every visit with every client – whether it’s a new puppy/kitten, a new adult, or a current patient — until you have a super well-behaved animal, is well worth it.
Step one: Have a staff member in charge of a program to train clients in helping their animals actually enjoy being handled by anyone, including themselves. This includes handling for nail trims and dental checks. This program could include selling products to calm pets, increase trainability and break bad behaviors.
Step two: Set up a system to identify each client who has not yet been through the program, and to follow up on progress. This is best done by the receptionist, who can also recognize training issues in the waiting room. Include a check box on the client’s file, or a tag in the digital records, so reminders can be easily sent.
Step three: Encourage this training at every wellness exam, in blog posts, with annual exam cards, or on social media. It can be offered as a free clinic benefit, or charged for minimally, as it will make your job easier and increase client retention. This would be a job for all members of your team. The receptionist may have photos and testimonials in the office (on a bulletin board or in a scrapbook) and add them to the website as well.
Classes and products
- Offer classes in Reiki, animal communication, Tellington T Touch, massage and basic behavior training.
- Have staff make videos of the classes or stage ones that demonstrate how to trim nails, take an animal’s temperature, brush teeth, clean the ears, hot pack and express the anal glands, examine the lymph nodes and extremities and maybe even take the pulse and palpate the abdomen. These videos can be sold or used as a practice promotion. Include transcripts of the videos for those who learn best from the written word.
- Choose what therapies and companies you want to work with:
- Flower essences: Remind people that some animals respond well while others seem unaffected. Flower essences are 100% safe and can be used frequently. You may decide to stock a few essences for basic good behavior that can be sold OTC at the front of the clinic. Since clients can usually buy them cheaper on the internet, you may opt to not carry them and provide websites in your handout. Some companies have affiliate programs so you can still monetize client purchases (usually only 5% to 20%). Administering flower essences one to five times a day for three weeks is a good trial; if those from one company do not seem as effective, try essences from another.
Bach Rescue Remedy (or emergency essences from other companies) can be used as follows — put four drops in one ounce of water (you could also sell empty dropper bottles) and administer in water (but not the water bowl), in food, per os, or topically (especially for itchy skin and other skin and ear lesions). This can decrease anxiety in any situation, including at veterinary visits.
To help pets learn faster, other flower essence combinations and single remedies can be tried by you or your clients. Have them keep good notes, maybe in a journal that you can sell, and schedule consults to evaluate the patient’s changes. Too often, the client focuses merely on the main complaint, so you or your staff can keep them looking at the whole animal in context. Some products to try include Training Formula (Jackson Galaxy Essences), Good Dog, Happy Feet, for nail trimming training and problems (Anaflora), Courage (Anaflora), Anxiety, Neediness (Green Hope Essences), Calm My Focus (Calm My Pet Inc.), Easy Learning (Alaska Essences), Best Behavior (Blackwing Farm)
- Essential oils can also decrease anxiety and increase learning ability. Until you have studied with, or spoken to, experts in the field, use hydrosols in cats.
Lavender is great to decrease anxiety, while lemon is used to increase cognitive awareness. You can also try Focus (for dog and trainer) from Dr. Shelton, or LifeFORCE’s Good Dog Essential Oil Blend, which promotes mental balance and function.
- Herbs to try include the Tranquility Blend by Animals’ Apawthecary; it’s useful for training problems caused by anxiety. Also consider Cognitive Function from Pet Wellness Blends.
- Encourage the best possible diet (fresh ingredients are ideal) with minimal chemicals, GMOS or glyphosates, and consider selling general health supplements. Mental and emotional health need a good basic set of amino acids; Steve Brown reminds us that low tryptophan from too much fat in the diet could increase aggression in genetically inclined dogs. (com/can-high-fat-beef-based-raw-diets-lead-to-behavioral-issues-and-aggression-in-some-dogs/?hilite=%22steve%22%2C%22brown%22). There are many wonderful sources to boost the nutrition of a fresh food diet, including:
- Herbal Multivitamin: Animal Essentials — Green Alternative
- Blue Green Algae – The Edge Up
- Mushrooms – Mushroom Wisdom
- CAS Options – Vet Classics: mushrooms and more
- Kelp: Thorvin
- Daily defense powder for cats and dogs: Glacier Peak Holistics
3. Treating Behavioral Problems
Some animals present for behavior problems so severe that there is no time for the above training approach. You need to have products on hand to temporarily address these issues while more individualized treatments are begun (homeopathy, TCVM, osteopathy, chiropractic, client training, referral to a behavioral specialist, etc.).
Quantify each symptom along with the trigger and duration. Your intake needs to probe. The patient may present as aggressive, yet your questioning reveals timidity, fear biting, protective growling but no real anger. You would make different choices based on your assessment. One joy of prescribing the following is that they offer broad emotional support, so they don’t have to be as precise as the more curative modalities. Have clients keep a daily record of changes in all symptoms, not merely those that are of concern. Selling a journal or giving one to new clients can encourage record-keeping.
Aggression — can have many triggers, including reactions to rabies vaccination. Regardless of the cause, any of the following can be helpful for fear or aggression.
- Flower essences
- Bully, Scaredy Cat, Safe Space, Self-Esteem, Grouch, Nervous Nelly — Jackson Galaxy Essences
- Anxiety, Jealousy, Outburst — Green Hope Essences
- Aggression, Buddha Nature, Courage, Calm Kitty — Anaflora
- Out of Control, Anxiety and Fear, Calming Solution, Emotional Stability — Pet Essences
- Calm My Dog, Calm My Cat — Dr. Pam Fisher’s Calm My Pet
- Fruits of Courage — Living Tree Orchid Essences
- Drama Trauma, Confidence — Blackwing Farms
- Essential oils, single or in combination:
- Calm-a-mile – Dr. Melissa Shelton
- Chill-Out – Silk Road Oils
- Hemp, Tranquility Blend — Animal Essentials
- Pet Calming – Pet Wellness Blends
- Calm and Quiet (hemp with nutritional additions) – Therabis
- Nutritional supplements can be offered singly, or in combinations:
- NutriCalm, NutriCalm for dogs, Rx B12 – Rx Vitamins
- Soliquin (a combination many trainers find useful for helping anxious dogs and cats) — Nutramax
- @Eaze calming gel (herbs, oil and nutrients) — VetzLife
- Sound therapy can also help.
- Sound and Beginning — Silk Road Oils
- Calm my Pet CD — Calm My Pet
Separation anxiety – many of the above products will work, but also try:
- Flower essences
- Separation Anxiety — Jackson Galaxy
- Drama Trauma, Home Alone! — Blackwing Farms
- Loneliness/Home Alone — Pet Essences
- Music, EMF protection, hydrosols, and flower essences are also effective for separation anxiety.
Becoming certified in a deep healing modality will help you resolve most behavioral problems. While you are studying homeopathy, TCVM, chiropractic, botanical medicine or osteopathy, the gentle therapies highlighted in this article can help your patients much more safely than most drugs. They are also a great addition to conventional practices whose clients may be asking for alternatives to drug treatments for behavior problems.