Here at Valet Vet – just like at most veterinary clinics – we strive to keep our medical visits as stress-free and safe as possible. While we do have an advantage over traditional veterinary clinics (our patients don’t have the car ride, or the waiting room, to become stressed) many pets still sense that there is “something up” when we arrive. We come into the house laden with strange bags and strange smells and they realize immediately that this isn’t a simple social call. Cats may run and hide, while dogs head towards the furthest corner of the room – barking as they make a wide circle to the other side of the furniture.
We pay attention to our patient’s body language as they check us out, smelling our bags, or inspecting the scale on the floor. We do our best to determine how each pet would prefer to be handled. Some pets do best with gentle, firm restraint – like swaddling a kitty in a towel. Other pets may do best with a “less is more” approach, appreciating a light hand on the leash and some calm words, using physical touch only as needed.
Sometimes, the patient may be giving us every signal they want nothing to do with us. The dog who is doing everything in her power to avoid getting close enough to touch. Her head is low with her neck stretched out. She is trying to check us out from afar. Her ears pull way back on her head and the whites of her eyes roll as she looks around. Her tail may be tucked between her legs, or just hanging low and still. Her body posture is tense; ready to run if the need arises. Even when she faces away from us (maybe watching mom holding the biscuits), her eyes and ears focus on our every sound and motion. Her body language tells us to stay away, she is not comfortable, and she does not want us any closer. If given the choice, this dog would prefer to run from us.
We understand what she is telling us, and we do our best to respect her boundaries as much as possible. Sometimes, in order to complete the physical exam, or maybe even to draw blood, we must get right into her personal space. Since we know we are entering her space, eliminating her escape routes as we go, we also keep in mind that she may lash out in a more direct way – even snapping or biting. In her mind, we did not get the message. She told us to stay away and here we are – still approaching. So now she is giving us the message again – using a stronger signal. We know these pets are just trying to say they are scared, and they want to be left alone. As much we want to respect their wishes, we still have to invade that personal bubble to try and help.
In cases like these, we may decide to try using a muzzle. Using a muzzle does not automatically mean that a pet is aggressive, or mean, or “bad.” It is just a means of keeping everyone safe. It allows us to limit the amount of time spent completing any “scary” business and help prevent the anxiety from escalating further. In many cases, just having the muzzle on their face may provide enough of a distraction so they hardly notice the procedure at all. Then, as soon as we’re done, the muzzle comes off! She can get plenty of praise, and the opportunity to escape again.
Using a muzzle is not meant as a punishment, nor is it painful for the pet. It is just one of the tools we use – like using calm voices and relaxed body language – to help reduce anxiety and get everything done quickly and safely.