A pair of vets checking out a dog.

What Are The Differences Between Animal Behaviorists And Veterinarians?

4 mins |

The high standard of care we seek for our pets means they can enjoy a range of services and products to help make sure they’re constantly feeling their best. However, sometimes, despite all our efforts, our furry friends might not be themselves and it can be hard to find the cause. This is where a veterinarian or an animal behaviorist comes in! But what are the differences between animal behaviorists and veterinarians?

A veterinarian diagnoses and treats animals based on extensive medical training and experience. Animal behaviorists, on the other hand, help animals by observing how they interact with people, other animals, and the environment.

What Is A Veterinarian Trained For?

A veterinarian opening a dog's mouth to inspect it.
Great work, doctor!

A veterinarian is an extensively trained medical professional with the experience and knowledge to diagnose and treat animals based on a clinical examination and diagnostic tools. 

During a clinical examination a vet will:

  • Record all the information about an animal and you as their carer
  • Ask you questions about your dog’s behavior, routine, and activity
  • Listen to your dog’s breathing and heart 
  • Measure an animal’s pulse, temperature, and respiratory frequency
  • Palpate (feel) your dog’s abdomen and lymph nodes

After the above, a veterinarian may suggest further specialized diagnostics, such as an examination of the blood or an x-ray.

Besides treating our pets when they are ill, vets also offer services such as routine surgeries (spaying or neutering) and dental treatment. Vets are also there to provide pet parents advice on all aspects of the care of their pet, from nutrition to parasitological treatment.

But it doesn’t stop there! Although many vets work in clinics, vets also play a significant role in food safety and human health.

When Should I Take My Dog To A Veterinarian?

Outside of routine visits for check-ups or dental work, sometimes our furry friends aren’t feeling too well and need some veterinary care.

Since we can’t directly ask them, it can sometimes be challenging to know when a pet may not be feeling well. So, we’ve listed below a few signs that it’s time to take a dog to the vet:

  • Multiple onsets of vomiting or diarrhea
  • Loss or changes in appetite
  • Bleeding
  • Lethargy (more tired than normal)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Difficulty or changed breathing
  • Changes in the skin, hair, or eyes
  • Changes in behavior (such as unusual crying or growling)

Disclaimer: Please use the above examples only as a  guide. If you’re not sure whether your pet requires immediate medical attention, call your veterinarian.

What Is An Animal Behaviorist Trained For?

Animal behaviorists have training in identifying and explaining the behavior of animals. This enables them to have a range of roles, from determining the reason for a specific behavior to improving animal welfare.

Rather than medical training, animal behaviorists have knowledge of:

  • How to identify whether a specific behavior is “normal”
  • Understanding the reason for specific behavior
  • Communicating with pet owners about their pet’s life
  • Suggest ways to improve or change pet behavior

When Should I Take My Dog To An Animal Behaviorist?

If you notice something unusual with your pet, such as the examples we gave earlier, then it’s best to take the animal to a veterinarian first.

It’s important to remember that animals don’t always show a problem the way we expect. So, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and get anything you’re not sure about checked by a professional.

After ruling out a medical condition or disease, you can contact an animal behaviorist if your dog is still behaving differently than usual. Your vet may even have some recommendations for you. 

Conclusion: Differences Between Animal Behaviorists And Veterinarians

Overall, just remember that if you think there is something wrong with your dog, contact your veterinarian first, to rule out a medical problem. 

If your veterinarian decides your pet is fit and well, the reason for a behavioral change could be related to your dog’s environment or their relationship with you as their carer. In this case, you can contact an animal behaviorist to see if they can explain the change, and help get your furry friend feeling their best again. Ask your vet for some recommendations.

So, is your dog showing signs of a behavior change? Have you had experience with animal behaviorists before? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Charlotte Stiles
Charlotte Stiles
Charlotte is a final-year veterinary medicine student at the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. She has been a volunteer at her university's clinic for 4 years, and completed internships in Spain, Belgium, and Austria. She is also an editor of her university's scientific journal, and dog mum to 13-year-old Chiki, who she rescued from a shelter.