What is a Pet Psychiatrist?

The Basics

One of the newest additions to the field of psychiatry is directed at working with our furry friends. The practice is not as far-fetched as it sounds, as pets have been prescribed relaxation and other medications for a while. Working in conjunction with a veterinarian, pet psychiatrists help the owners to find the best solution for their pet. Some of the more common behaviors that can be effectively treated by pet psychiatrists include hyperactivity, anxiety, and aggressive tendencies.

What is Pet Psychiatry?

Pet psychiatry is a growing field in which professionals are tasked with dealing with pets showing troublesome behaviors which have become so extreme that they are now impacting upon their and/or their owners happiness and welfare. Examples of such behaviors include aggression towards humans or other animals, compulsive behaviors, inappropriate elimination/soiling, hyperactivity or symptoms of fears and phobias.

Pet psychiatry is the study, diagnosis and treatment of pets with mental health issues. The field considers animal biology alongside environmental and social factors which may lead to troublesome behaviors. It looks to understand the mental health issues underpinning difficult behaviors and, ultimately, provide guidance to help owners to address these, with the ultimate aim of ridding the pet of their troubling behaviors.

Pet psychiatry looks towards medical as well as behavior interventions to achieve this. It is quite widely accepted that domestic pets can suffer from mental health issues that are very similar in nature to that of humans. Dogs have been shown to display similar rates of depression to humans. In addition, domestic animals have been known to display characteristics of anxiety and compulsive disorders. In such cases, a pet psychiatrist can prescribe medication to help alleviate these disorders. If medication is used, it will be accompanied by behavioral teaching and modification with the ultimate aim to be to wean the pet off the medication as the environmental triggers are dealt with.

What Does a Pet Psychiatrist Do?

Pet psychiatrists are professionals dealing with pets displaying troubling behaviors which are now impacting upon its welfare. Pet psychiatrists will usually get involved after a pet has been thoroughly assessed by a veterinarian to ensure there is no medical reason for such behaviors (i.e. pain can often lead pets to ‘act out’ or develop strange behaviors). The role of pet psychiatry is to try to establish the underlying problem in the pet and what triggers it before working with the pet and its owner to dampen the effect these triggers can have. Work will almost always involve behavioral training and adaption techniques and, occasionally, involve the use of prescription medication.

The work of a pet psychiatrist will involve extremely close working with owners. In first time visits, it’s not uncommon for them to spend around 10 minutes with the animal and 50 minutes with the owner, trying to ascertain patterns and work out underlying causes. As well as this providing insight into the behavior of the animal, this allows the pet psychiatrist to assess the role the owner is having in the situation – it has, for example, been suggested that dogs will often mirror and project the feelings of their owners.

A pet psychiatrist will often employ team working techniques to achieve the best outcome – as well as the pet owner, this may also include the pet’s veterinarian and possible an animal trainer if it is felt appropriate.

The pet psychiatrist will be looking to diagnose any underlying mental health issues in the pet (it is not uncommon for pets to suffer disorders such as depression). If it is felt appropriate, medication may be used to help treat the mental health issues, in a very similar way it is used in humans. Medication may be used to offer immediate relief of symptoms for the pet but the psychiatrist will then work carefully to make environmental adaptations or to reduce the stress felt by the pet in the presence of their triggers. The ultimate goal will always be to remove the pet from the medication regime once the triggers in the environment are determined to have been sufficiently modified or dealt with.

What is the Work Environment for a Pet Psychiatrist

Pet psychiatrists usually work in private practice with referrals from local veterinarians of particularly troublesome pets where medical causes of behavior changes have been ruled out.

Since they are dealing with animals displaying troublesome behavior, they will routinely encounter animals with aggression issues and there is an inherent risk of injury to them when dealing with this population specifically.

They will often carry out initial visits with their clients in the environment which is causing the pet most distress. This may often be in the client’s home, allowing them to observe both the pet and the owner in this familiar circumstance. This will help to identify any environmental issues leading to the pet’s trouble and will also allow them to suggest specific adaptations within the home to alleviate some of the pet’s stress. Alternatively, they may conduct visits with the pet in an outdoor environment if the pet’s problem is, for example, aggression to other dogs when out for a walk. Again, this allows observation of the problem actually happening with the chance for suggestion of adaptation, potentially of routine or of the owner’s behavior. First hand observation is an important part of their role so work will often be away from their office.

What is the Salary of a Pet Psychiatrist?

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the national average salary for a psychiatrist in general is $182,700, as of May 2014. Geographic location can also be a factor in determining income level, as the higher salaries are centered around the major metropolitan areas, such as White Plains and Long Beach.

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