Five Reasons Veterinarians Should Consider Behavior

Whether a horse's bizarre behavior is an indicator of a medical condition, vice versa, or he's just behaving badly, a veterinarian should consider a patient's behavior examining him, according to an article published in the September issue of the Equine Veterinary Journal. The article addressed five reasons veterinarians why:

The owner's protection: During a purchase exam for a would-be owner, the veterinarian must take into account the horse's behavior. If the horse shies for no apparent reason, bucks, or is aggressive, the veterinarian should point this out to the potential owner, especially to an inexperienced one.

Their own Protection: Veterinarians often receive the brunt of the bites, kicks, or other physical injuries from their patients. This behavior can stem from painful experiences often associated with veterinarian visits. In cases like these, the article's authors suggest pairing positive actions (such as giving the horse a carrot) with unpleasant ones (administering shots). That way, the horse will begin to associate food with the sight of a syringe instead of pain.

Behavior presenting as medical problems: There are times when a behavior problem can be perceived as a physical ailment. One such case the authors bring up is self-mutilation. Owners might perceive a horse that constantly turns to the side and kicks, as one that is colicking. However, when these signs do not progress past this point, and the horse is not actually kicking at its belly, then behavior should be considered in the diagnosis. Of course, other physical ailments such as dermatological or neurological problems should be first ruled out.

Medical problems presenting as behavioral problems: There are times when a medical problem is discounted as a behavioral problem when it shouldn't be. The author cited the example of headshaking caused by an allergic reaction. Vertical headshaking can be a sign of a mild aggression, but it is also hypothesized to be the result of an allergic reaction to environmental factors or a reaction to sunshine. 

Behavior progresses to medical problems: Severe behavioral problems can sometimes lead to physical ones, such as in the case of a chronic weaver that shiftshis weight back and forth so much that he causes his hooves to bleed.

The article's authors, who are researchers at Cornell University, state, "Management, behavior modification, and psychopharmacy can ameliorate most problems. Treatment of weaving with in-stall mirrors is an example of a recent advance in therapy for a common behavior problem."

About the Author

Chad Mendell

Chad Mendell is the former Managing Editor for TheHorse.com .

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