By Simona Vagnoli


When we think of veterinary medicine, we often imagine veterinarians treating the physical illnesses of animals. However, behind the scenes, there is a fascinating and equally important world that also deals with their mental and behavioral health. Dr. Maruska Fossi of the Maruska Fossi Veterinary Clinic in Bibbiena, specialized in Behavioral Medicine, explains how a correct and timely analysis and management of behavioral disorders in animals is important for a harmonious coexistence between species.



Who exactly is the Veterinary Doctor expert in behavior and what are the main skills and responsibilities associated with this professional figure?

The Veterinary Behavior Expert is a professional with extensive knowledge of clinical medicine, internal medicine and neuroscience, necessary to address the complex correlations between behavioral disorders and physical pathologies. It plays a crucial role in understanding and treating such disorders to restore the psychological and emotional well-being of companion animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, horses, birds, and some exotic animals. After making an accurate diagnosis, he establishes the guidelines for intervention and directs the patient to other professionals with whom he collaborates in close synergy to ensure the success of the healing process.

Who are the professionals with whom the Veterinary Doctor expert in behavior collaborates?

There are three other figures that come into action to solve animal behavioral disorders.

Educators intervene in puppies that have just arrived in the family (in dogs and cats it is preferable that adoption takes place after 90 – 120 days of life) to promptly correct any incorrect behavior. At this stage, the process can only last a few months as the psychosomatic development of the puppy takes place within a few weeks.

Trainers and rehabilitative instructors, on the other hand, intervene when adult animals need recovery or rehabilitation due to behavioral or health problems. In this situation, therapy may extend over a prolonged period of time, even several years. During this process, psychiatric drugs (which only the veterinarian can prescribe) may also be necessary as an integral part of the treatment, with heavier and more unpleasant consequences for the family and the animal.

The third figure is that of the expert specialized in feline relationships, who follows the cognitive-relational approach and works in collaboration with a veterinarian, providing valuable support to deal with the specific behavioral problems of cats.

Can you give us some examples of Behavioral Physician interventions?

First of all, it is advisable to consult a veterinarian who is an expert in behavior even before getting a pet, especially dogs and cats, in order to orient yourself in the choice of breed and size according to the specific needs of the family and the animal and not only for a factor of aesthetic satisfaction.

Let’s take a few examples: dogs such as the Dalmatian or the Weimaraner, admired for their distinctive aesthetics, have, for example, breed characteristics that require special attention and it is important that potential owners are aware of this before deciding to adopt them.

In addition, in veterinary medicine a behavioral problem is often linked to an eating disorder and even in this case an intervention by an expert doctor is necessary. In our clinic, with my colleague Dr. Sabrina Lorenzini specialized in nutrition, we have helped many patients thanks to the complementarity of our skills.

Some small dogs, such as poodles, in the first years of age show digestive problems which, after an initial investigation into metabolic diseases, fall for 90% in cases of chronic stress gastritis. These dogs are sometimes treated as stuffed animals, underestimating their need for movement and external stimuli.

On the other hand, it is not enough to have a large garden to ensure mental well-being for the dog, as he must also establish a relationship of trust and complicity with the owner, explore the world, walk, get to know other animal species and know how to relate to humans.

Even in cats, which unlike dogs are an optional social animal and choose for themselves whether or not to be in company, a problem such as hemorrhagic cystitis may not depend on an infection or stone but may be identified as idiopathic stress cystitis.

In fact, it is very important for felines to have adequate environmental enrichment that allows them to express their predatory nature even inside an apartment, through stimulating games, scratching posts and suspended hiding places where they can take refuge.

It is important to emphasize that the use of coercive methods, such as tugs or choke leashes or do-it-yourself solutions to sensitize dogs to noise are not recommended or effective in addressing behavioral issues. Such methods can only cause physical and psychological harm to the animal.

With Christmas just around the corner, all these examples have an even more relevant value: the choice to give an animal as a gift requires conscious responsibility and a long-term commitment. It is crucial to be properly informed, consult experts, and avoid impulse buying.


Info: Clinica Veterinaria di Maruska Fossi – Piazza della Stazione 3, Bibbiena Stazione (Ar) / Tel. 349 5052678