Veterinary medicine is a career that runs a gamut of different facets and has many intricate parts. One of the largest points that pre-veterinary students don’t realize is the significant amount of time spent interacting with the pet owners. And let me tell you, perception by pet owners counts for a lot towards their trust in the veterinary team. But what happens when that perception becomes a misconception??

The Case Being Made

Angry or anxious dogs and how we as veterinarians work with them is what we’re talking about. Many years ago, a new client complained that I was scared of her dog and that as a professional, I should not have been afraid and known how to deal with the patient. This from a medium sized dog who was growling at me. They went on to claim that getting bit is part of my job. Some dogs or cats talk but don’t act. She never gave any warning that her dog had a history of biting (which I came to find out about later in the appointment) but sure enough, I got bit after avoiding the first attempt on my fingers.

So let’s clear up this misconception for a moment and break it down. Animals can bite. I get that and it’s hazard of the job that most veterinary professionals don’t like. We generally expect pet owners to warn us if their dog is anxious or uncomfortable with their surroundings and if they may bite. Why is this important? We work with our hands. I’ve known colleagues who have been permanently crippled or at best out of work for a few weeks due to injuries from bite wounds. So yes, I’m aware of what damage a dog or cat can do all the way from a chihuahua with a temper to a scared German Shepherd or a frightened or feisty cat. It’s not that I’m afraid of your pet, it’s actually that I respect them by recognizing their stress or anxiety of being in the clinic and for what they may do in defense of themselves.

It’s Not Fair

If we hear from a pet owner, “Oh, I’m surprised he hasn’t bit you” and that’s the first warning we get, that is unfair to the veterinary staff working with the pet. We have other pets, family, and co-workers who depend on us so injuries leading to problems in doing our job can have a real impact. We know that some pets are going to be stressed and biting may be a natural response for them, but do the vet clinic staff a favor and let them know before the appointment. In previous generations of vet med, throwing a muzzle on the pet and pinning them down was the way it was done. We’re not in those dark ages any longer and many veterinarians (including myself) and their staff have undergone Fear Free certification. For many of these pets, we can recommend some short acting anti-anxiety medication to make the visit go much smoother. Some pets may still need a muzzle (if a dog is already at this point, I recommend muzzle training at home and/or using a basket muzzle so they can get treats during an exam) or additional sedation.

Remember, veterinary team members and pet owners are on the same side. We want to help pets stay healthy and live fuller, happy lives. As your teammate, do us the courtesy and help us help your pet by having honest open communication if your pet may be stressed during their visit. Even with the ones we need to use caution to avoid injury; remember it’s respect, not fear.

Disclaimer: Blog posts may contain some opinions which are my own and may not reflect those of any current or former employers. 

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