Understanding the 3 ‘M’s for behaviour.


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pet’s behavioural problems

An interview with Dr Gabrielle Carter

Dr Gabrielle Carter BVSc (Hons) MSc MANZCVS DACVB is a Veterinary Specialist in Animal Behaviour. Gabrielle sat down with one of the ROYAL CANIN® vets to discuss why she’s so passionate about supporting caregivers to solve their pet’s behavioural problems. 

Gabrielle, could you tell us how you developed a passion for behavioural medicine? 

Way back before I was a veterinarian, I was in an honours psychology stream, focusing on the biological basis of behaviour. Then I got an offer to study veterinary science. After 20 years in general practice, I decided to specialize, and was naturally drawn to behaviour. 

At the RSPCA Victoria we see many animals with behavioural problems. So, if you’re a behaviourist, it’s a great place to work! It’s very rewarding, especially to see that behaviour is gaining some traction in the assessment of cruelty cases. I truly love being an advocate for animals—not just physically, but mentally as well.

I hear you have a new clinic—which is exciting! 

We have a new behavioural clinic (Good Pet Behaviour, at RSPCA Burwood) that is opened to the public, to help pets with behavioural problems. Our hope is to stop the relinquishment of animals into the shelter, by offering a supportive team-based approach. The community is recognizing mental health issues in their pets more than ever and are wanting to get help. 

How do you approach behavioural therapy? 

My approach is what I call the three ‘M’s:

Firstly, management, which may not actually change the behaviour, but is needed for safety reasons to stop the animal from practicing the behaviour, or to prevent the animal from being exposed to something that makes it fearful or anxious. This could include crate training, muzzles etc.  

Modification—including desensitization, counter conditioning; helping to teach owners how to carry out those strategies. 

Medication—is medication going to be helpful? And if so, what ongoing management is required. 

Are all three ‘M’s’ needed? 

Short answer… YES. Multi-modal approaches support long-term success in the majority of behaviour cases. 

But the approach needs to be tailored to the caregiver’s unique abilities and skills. It’s no use creating a skilled behavioural modification plan if it’s not going to happen. Also, caregivers have very different expectations of their animals and what they want to achieve. It’s about building and maintaining that human-animal bond; and ensuring a mutually beneficial life together. 

Have you found nutrition plays a role? 

I find the nutrition side of behavioural therapy very interesting, and there is progressively more research in this area and I’m very excited to see what comes out of it. I’ve seen some significant behavioural changes by changing diet, as well as the use of some nutraceuticals. I suspect anxiety can come from different places, and I’m not surprised to know that the gut microbiome can impact on mental states such as anxiety. 

If you had one tip to give vets, nurses, and caregivers, what would it be? 

Read the animal’s body language. Animals are giving us lots and lots of messages about what is going on and what the problems are, and unfortunately, we are missing those signals. 

Also, if something isn’t working, don’t keep banging your head against a brick wall! If you’re handling an animal in a particular way, and they are getting more stressed or more aggressive; stop, stand back, and think about how you could do things differently. This is the part I love most about behaviour—it puts that creative challenge out there. Remember we are all individuals and need an individualized approach.

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