According to the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), one in every 250 dogs in the UK is prescribed behaviour modifying drugs each year. New RVC research has now found that the three breeds at highest risk of being prescribed a drug to “manage undesirable behaviours” are Toy Poodle, Tibetan Terrier, and Shih-Tzu.
The research “explored the use of drug therapy for undesirable behaviours in dogs, using veterinary clinical data from more than 100,000 dogs across the UK” and found that of all the dogs treated with drug therapy for an undesirable behaviour each year, only 2.2 per cent were referred to a behaviourist during the study period.
Dr Rowena Packer, Lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare Science at the RVC and co-author, said, “Despite previous reports of as many as nine in every 10 UK dogs showing undesirable behaviours, this study has shown how few go on to receive medical and/or behavioural therapy.”
“Given that undesirable behaviours pose risks to not only the mental wellbeing and lifespan of dogs, but also to owners’ mental health, public health and the dog-owner bond, effective and timely treatment is vital from a ‘One Health’ perspective.”
“Therefore, it is key that increased provision and guidance around this important and growing area of veterinary education is available to primary-care vets to ensure they feel well-equipped to advise on veterinary behaviour medicine and all the options available to owners and their dogs.”
The study also revealed that the most common dog behaviours to be treated with drug therapy were anxiousness, dementia-like behaviour changes, and nervousness aggression. It is hoped that this new RVC research can “raise awareness of the current scale of drug usage for behavioural issues in first opinion veterinary practice as well as flagging potentially missed opportunities for suitable behavioural modification”.
The RVC states, “This is an important finding as it highlights the need to improve the welfare of these dogs through greater understanding and veterinary expertise in the prevention and management of undesirable behaviours in the primary veterinary care setting.
“This includes encouraging referrals to accredited behavioural specialists where appropriate, to optimise the quality of life of dogs with undesirable behaviours, and their caregivers.”
An undesirable behaviour was reported to contribute to euthanasia in 48.4% of deaths of the dogs that showed undesirable behaviours, and the need for veterinary intervention to manage behavioural issues in dogs is expected to increase in the coming years – with another study noting an increase in cases since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.