For the Animals

Cheeky orphan cheetahs that need to learn some manners; a cute and cuddly kitten that likes to terrorise the family pooch; a gentle giraffe that might suffer stress at being transported overseas – problems such as these are all in a day’s work for Aussie veterinary behaviour specialist Dr Kersti Seksel.

Veterinary behaviourists are specially trained to understand and diagnose behaviour problems in animals. ‘We are the psychiatrists of the animal world,’ says Kersti.

‘Because animals can’t talk, it’s up to their carers to tell us about the problem. We observe the animal and try to help them by also looking at how the animal normally behaves as a domestic species or in the wild,’ she says.

Kersti has worked with all kinds of colourful critters, from exotic animals such as alligators and cheetahs, to more common family pets such as cats, dogs, horses and rabbits.

Keeping the Peace

Every case is challenging and different according to Kersti. One of the most interesting dilemmas she has helped to solve involved a couple of seals who were at war with each other. ‘They’d fight each other all the time and they just couldn’t get along,’ says Kersti.

The seal keepers were at their wits end with the feisty seals, so they called on Kersti to help find a solution. ‘The problem was that it was mating season and they didn’t have enough personal space to move around in their enclosure,’ she says. ‘After a bit of re-modelling, the seals now tolerate each other.’

Another case involved a poor puppy who was scared of absolutely everything. ‘The dog, a golden retriever, had what we call global fears – it couldn’t cope with any changes in its environment, says Kersti. ‘If the daffodils had bloomed overnight, the dog couldn’t go in the backyard. It was just too frightened.’

Kersti gradually solved the problem by using medicine to make the dog feel less anxious and rewarding the dog with a treat every time it was relaxed or if it managed its fears.

Stress Relief

Kersti is one of a handful of highly qualified specialists who travel the globe to teach other people about animal behaviour – why animals do the things they do.

Part of her job is to educate other health professionals about new developments and scientific breakthroughs. Veterinary behaviourists such as Kersti also help animals deal with traumatic events – such as the recent earthquakes in New Zealand and the flooding in Queensland.

‘Some animals get very stressed – just like humans do when tragedy strikes – and we have to help them learn to deal with what has happened,’ she says.

Kersti’s career has taken her to some far-flung destinations all over the globe. One month she might find herself teaching students at university in China, the next she’s jetting off to Europe, the UK, or Japan.

Based on the article by Carrol Baker