Behavior Blog – What is a Veterinary Behaviorist?

Published by VCA Inc. in Behavior, Behavior Blog October 24, 2016

by: Dr. Julie Cho, DVM

A Veterinary behaviorist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of behavior problems in dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, and other species. Similar to human psychiatrists, veterinary behaviorists have a medical degree, complete at least 3 years of specialized education in veterinary behavior, and pass a rigorous two-day examination to achieve board certification.

How are veterinary behaviorists different from trainers or non-veterinary behaviorists?

  • As medical professionals, a veterinary behaviorist is uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat both emotional and physical causes of behavior issues.
  • They also have knowledge of and access to treatment methods.  These also include medication not available to trainers and non-veterinary behaviorists.
  • Additionally, they are required to remain current on the most recent scientific findings in the field of clinical animal behavior.
  • Also, consulting with a veterinary behaviorist acknowledges your pet will receive the highest standard of care from a certified professional.
Veterinary Behaviorist teaches a Husky to sit and settle

Veterinary Behaviorist teaches a Husky to sit and settle

What types of behavioral problems do veterinary behaviorists treat?

  • Veterinary behaviorists diagnose and treat a variety of behavior problems such as:
    • Aggression toward people
    • Aggression toward other animals
    • Anxiety, fears, and phobias such as separation anxiety and thunderstorm phobias
    • Urine marking
    • Urination/defecation outside the litterbox
    • Excessive barking or vocalization
    • Compulsive behaviors
    • Cognitive dysfunction
  • They also provide preventative behavioral counseling such as preparation for the arrival of a baby, introducing new pets into the household, and pre-adoption pet selection.

What can I expect at a behavior appointment?

  • The initial appointment lasts approximately 1.5-2.5 hours depending on the complexity of the case.
  • First, we collect a detailed history focusing on the most pressing issue.
  • Next we provide a treatment plan that is tailored to the individual pet.
  • In most cases, a treatment plan consists of environmental and behavioral modification.
  • Finally, medication may be prescribed in some cases but it is NEVER used without behavior modification.

How can I make an appointment with a veterinary behaviorist?

  • If you live in or near Southern California, call VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital at (310) 473-2951 to tentatively schedule an appointment.
  • The Behavior Service at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital will then contact you to confirm the appointment and email you a questionnaire. Complete the questionnaire and return it to the Behavior Service as soon as possible.
  • If you live outside of Southern California, visit to find a board certified veterinary behaviorist in your region.


About Dr. Julie Cho

Dr. Julie Cho earned her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine in 2015. She is pursuing a non-conforming residency in Veterinary Behavior under the mentorship of Dr. Karen Sueda, a board certified veterinary behaviorist, at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital.

In addition, Dr. Cho recently completed a one year rotating internship in small animal medicine and surgery at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital. Her areas of interest include canine anxiety disorders and the human–animal bond. Dr. Cho grew up in Los Angeles, California. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and teaching her fearful Maltese new tricks.