Hold On There…

One of the toughest things I encounter on a daily basis is the realization of how much a lot of my patients really don’t like me. In fact I often tell people looking to become veterinarians that if their major motivator is a love for animals, they should think about owning a boarding facility or being zookeepers. I say that because more often than not the animals we are dealing with want nothing to do with us in the exam room. Even my own cat will hiss and get his fur on end in one of our exam rooms and at home he’s an absolute love.

Pets aren’t in my office, however, for me to pet and love on them. They’re there because I have a very specialized set of skills. A set of skills that allow me in less than half an hour to use my ears, hands, eyes and often nose to tell you whether or not your pet is healthy. Unfortunately, even for the most skilled veterinarian the examination part of that half hour requires the patient to be restrained. Restraint is often the most difficult part of the visit for pet owners to deal with. Many times they will try to comfort their pet during restraint or some owners will even try to do the restraining themselves. Over the next few short paragraphs I will try to explain why restraint is important and why you should step back and let us do what we’re trained to do.

It’s dangerous for you. Hospital and court documents are full of stories of well intentioned owners whose pet’s would have never bit them otherwise who were injured while trying to comfort or restrain their pets and subsequently had to sue their veterinarian. Notice I said had to sue their vet. A single cat bite in an otherwise healthy person can lead to an infection that requires a hospital stay and intravenous antibiotics. It’s not unusual for treatment like this to cost tens of thousands of dollars. If you have insurance, they will sue me. If you don’t, you will have to sue me just to cover your medical bills. I understand that and wouldn’t blame you but if I can prevent it simply by not having you hold your pet or touch it while it is being restrained, I will. The last thing I want is for you to get hurt and possibly seriously ill from something I could have prevented by being a little more assertive.

It’s dangerous for your pet. You know your dog or cat better than anyone. I never forget that, in fact it’s why I ask you to bring them in every year and not have someone else do it for you. To me, you are the most important source of information about how your pet is doing. What you might not know about your pet is how they are going to respond when I inject them with a vaccine or apply gentle pressure to that really painful loop of intestine I found on physical exam. I have seen owners “have to” hold their cats by one leg as they tried to jump off the exam table, needless to say that is not good for the cat and possibly not very good for the owner either. The bottom line there is, you aren’t trained in animal restraint, my staff is. Allowing them to do their jobs makes the exam go faster and allows it to be more thorough. Fortunately, I have never seen an injury to a pet during an exam but much like the paragraph above, if my telling you that I can’t allow you to restrain your pet during my physical exam is what it takes to prevent an injury, that’s what I’m going to do.

It’s dangerous for me. I make a living with my hands. I need them to do my job. The number one place I’m going to be bitten by a pet is on the hand. If I get a bad enough bite or an infection from a bite that costs me the use of one of my hands, my career is over. You might know your pet inside and out but you don’t know what I’m going to do next. My staff does. On any given day we will examine between fifteen and thirty pets together. For safety and to offer your pet the best care we have to get it right every time. To do that, we practice together. We don’t practice until we get it right, we practice until we can’t get it wrong. If I’m having someone I haven’t worked and practiced with hold a pet during an exam, there are things that aren’t are going to happen. The most important is that the pet is not going to get as thorough an exam as it deserves and there are certain things that I will not even attempt such as a full ocular exam, a complete oral exam and I may not look as thoroughly at the ears. I will probably not be doing a rectal exam and in some cases will have to even skip the temperature. That’s not great medicine. Oddly enough, we don’t have a charge built in for an exam limited by having the owner hold the pet. You’re still going to pay for the full exam I would have performed if my staff was holding your pet. You just won’t get that exam.

Furthermore, it is below the standard of care for a veterinarian to have you restrain your pet during a physical exam. This is actually one fairly universally defined standard. If something happens in an exam room and a pet or owner is injured while the owner is restraining the pet, that is my fault because allowing an owner to restrain the pet for examination or treatment is below the standard of care. I try to never practice below the standard of care, that is a commitment I have made to myself and to your pet and you. Often that is difficult and the standard of care is open to interpretation. When I have a set standard that I can adhere to, I will.

Most importantly to me, it is less stressful for your pet. You don’t hold pets still for examinations everyday. You don’t even do it a few times a year. Our staff do it everyday. They are confident and comfortable holding your pet and your pet can sense that. In a similar fashion they sense your unease and inexperience and it stresses them out. If you are truly confident that you can hold your pet, save that attitude for the gym, I’m not getting ego bit for you.

Many of the people who read this blog have been in situations where I might have let you hold your pet for something, I’m not perfect but maybe you’ll be more understanding now when I ask you to give us a little more room to do our jobs better.

Thank you for reading.



3 thoughts on “Hold On There…

  1. Having a bad day? Sounds like it.

    Ya know…some Vets are, absolutely, animal whisperers. I’m fortunate that mine is one of them. I’ve run across several in my 45 years of owning pets. Having one with 160 lb intact male Newfs is very important. There’s no way to manhandle them into submission. So other methods are necessary.

    You may have a rule that owners are not to “help”, and that your job isn’t to love on or pet their animals. Our Vet has the opposite methodology. IF the human is comfortable, confident, and competent, she likes them to help keep their pets calm. If the owner is not, then with their permission, she removes the pet to another room to complete whatever it is she needs to do. And she always “loves on and pets” the dogs or cats before she greets the humans.

    I can handle my dogs better than anyone in her practice can and she knows it, so often asks me for help holding them or lifting them…or getting them to move a certain way. I certainly do not want anyone there bitten, or throw their back out trying to wrangle a giant dog who’s acting like a bucking bronco because it’s stressed. They don’t behave that way with me there. Never. So mine are never taken to the “back room”. Not gonna happen. It’s a “no” for me. It’s safer for them, the techs, the Vet and the dog for me to be there. They’re show dogs so if I can handle a 160 lb male Newf around a thousand other dogs in a building, all intact males plus a good number of females in season, I guarantee I can handle them at the Vet’s office…unless the Vet is someone they hate, then it’s all I can do to stop them from bolting to the door. (Which has happened, and that was the last time I ever went to that Vet. I always trust my dog’s instincts…always).

    Their Vet is very calm, loving and patient with them. They feel that and we’ve never had a problem. In fact, they usually lay down on the floor and are snoring in minutes. They do lots of rolling on their backs so they can get tummy rubs while there. Their Vet and the techs comply. Obviously they’re very comfortable in their Vet’s office, and even in the waiting room. Cats too. I can take any of my 6 adopted feral cats in (and one is definitely NOT a people lover), and they sit there, calm, quiet, and still. The Vet can do ANYTHING to them. I can’t. Heck, I try giving a pill and end up with blood everywhere. Mine. (And I do know how to pill a cat. I used to work at a Vet as a tech, long long ago. Now I insist on liquid. LOL).

    Only once, have I had one of our Newfs need to be muzzled at a Vet’s office. And that was the Vet’s fault. My young Newf was seeing an ophthalmologist for a CERF exam at a specialty group, and had his eyes dilated. Once the tech was finished gathering info, she left the room. In a few minutes the Vet came in, turned off the light, and without saying a single word to the dog, OR me, she shined a light in his eyes. He growled, she had him muzzled. That was totally wrong, and unnecessary. (He’s had his eyes checked several times since by a different Vet ophthalmologist who has a calming manner, and he’s never growled.) I wouldn’t take him back to that first Vet if she paid me.

    Also, at the same practice, the same day, he was having his heart checked by the cardiologist for OFA. His eyes were still dilated, but the Vet came into the room, started talking to him, petting him and next thing I knew was rolling on the floor with him, wrestling. My dog LOVED him. No growls or stress no matter what he did. THAT Vet was well known to be an animal whisperer. Every animal loved him to pieces. And word did get around. If you need a great cardiologist go to see Dr “x”.

    Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with muzzles when necessary. We also have a Chihuahua who I have to muzzle to clip his nails. (The Vet doesn’t need a muzzle, but I do) He’s a sweet dog, but when I try to clip his nails, he turns into Cujo with me. Much like the cats do as I said above.

    I know there are stupid owners who do stupid things with their pets and it’s annoying and frustrating, but that’s the same in any industry when dealing with the public. I also know there are some pets that are only jerks when their owners are around. As soon as the owners are out of sight, then turn into little angels. (Kids do that too). So maybe taking the pet OUT of the room for the blood draw, or exam if they’re acting freaky might help. As I said above, our Vet does that if she needs to, with the owner’s consent. Just to get the pets away from the owners while doing something the owners get stressed over. Especially if she’s dealing with owners who tend to be the type that fawn over “little fluffy”. Show dog owners don’t do that…working dog owners don’t do that… dog’s who compete in events that require certain levels of obedience have owners who don’t do that. They have their dogs under control, but “pet” owners…well…they can be a bit like helicopter parents. However, every owner has the responsibility to be the pet’s advocate, and if they get nervous because of the way the pet reacts to you, or feel like you’re not handling or treating it properly…well then, maybe it’s time to have a heart to heart and suggest they find a Vet their dog DOES like. Opens up space in your practice for a better fit between you the pet and the owners.

    Also, just a little suggestion, if you don’t mind …perhaps if you start whispering to the pets…truly letting them feel the love you have for them (since that’s why you said you became a Vet), petting and loving on them…they’ll calm down and the owners won’t feel the need to help? If the pets love and trust you, and vice versa…the owners will too and your fear of being bitten (and perhaps sued) will lessen as well? “Parents” (owners) don’t helicopter if they feel comfortable entrusting their loved ones to someone else.

    Just a little aside…I once worked for a Vet (in a 3 Vet practice) who was gruff and all business with the animals but very charming to the pet owners. No petting, no calming words, no loving on the pets. We, the staff, however, used to pet and cuddle the pets, as did the other two Vets (one was the President of the MD Veterinary Association at the time). The “gruff one” hated that we petted and loved on the animals. Warned us we were going to get our faces bitten one day. WE never did…but he did. I swear he got bitten more than any of the rest of the staff combined. I worked there 3 years and never got a scratch. The animals liked us and hated him. Actually we didn’t like him much either. Fortunately there were other Vets there that we loved, and he wasn’t the “head” Vet, so the job wasn’t totally miserable, LOL. I’m not sure what his deal was, but we never figured out why he became a Vet. He was technically good, but he never seemed to like animals, at all.

    I love that my pets run to the car and jump in when I say we’re going to see Dr ___! They go in with tails wagging, happy. They’re never anxious, or stressed. They love her. And that’s how it should be. If the pets love the Vet, then the people aren’t so likely to not want to take their pets to the Vet and everybody’s happy.


    • Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response.
      I had to reread my post a few times to understand where you were coming from (I write these a little ahead of time)
      I think I might not have been clear with my explanation of restraint and that is a little bit on purpose. Restraint has to be individual to each patient. I see about thirty patients a day and use a muzzle about four times a week, I scruff cats once in a great while for an exam, maybe. It would have to be a pretty aggressive cat and scruffing would be until we had a better method. I can’t actually remember the last time I (or one of my coworkers) scruffed a cat. But I don’t keep notes on these things. Most of our restraint is a version – albeit a weird version – of cuddling. And there is plenty of praise, whispering and love.
      But restraint; holding off a vein, allowing me to look in the eyes, the ears, at the back of the mouth, perform a rectal exam, and on and on has to happen. It’s not the same as man handling. It can be a pleasant experience and most dogs/cats see it as a game.
      But it is serious business as well and it is best left to professionals who have the training, experience and are properly insured against incident. For better or worse, that is the world we live in.
      Thank you for reading.


      • I do agree that you need to be able to do your job and do it safely, otherwise, why are you there? But I did feel some hostility (maybe frustration is a better word) in your original post. That’s why I asked if you had a bad day. I know there are some owners and pets that will try your patience to the extreme. And I know that some pets aren’t going to be happy campers with Vets poking and examining them, but this paragraph from your original post made me curious because, to me, it sounds like the “norm” in your practice, and it’s not what I’m used to seeing at the Vets I choose, especially from my animals.

        “One of the toughest things I encounter on a daily basis is the realization of how much a lot of my patients really don’t like me. In fact I often tell people looking to become veterinarians that if their major motivator is a love for animals, they should think about owning a boarding facility or being zookeepers. I say that because more often than not the animals we are dealing with want nothing to do with us in the exam room. Even my own cat will hiss and get his fur on end in one of our exam rooms and at home he’s an absolute love.

        Pets aren’t in my office, however, for me to pet and love on them. ”

        WHY don’t they like you? That’s really my question. And it sounds like you think “loving pets” isn’t a great motivator for a person who wants to go to Vet school? I’d think it’s key…along with a strong desire to try to make their lives better through healthy living, and healing them when they’re sick. Why would you want to do those things if you don’t love them? Wouldn’t any other profession be better? It’s kind of sad to think you’re in a profession where you feel that most of your patients “really don’t like you”. (Right up there with the IRS or used car salesmen???)

        Maybe I look at it from a more holistic viewpoint…mind, body AND emotions (the instinctive or intuitive feelings) are all important considerations for the health and well-being of any animal (all species), and it’s important to me for my pets to love (or at least like) going to see their Vet, and for my Vet to give them a big smile and some “love” when she sees them too. Newfs do that to people in general, they’re special that way, but hey, even my obnoxious feral cat and my inherited Chihuahua seem to bask in her attention. So that’s a good thing.

        Anyway…what I think doesn’t matter in this instance. I just responded because your blog intrigued me and I’m used to dealing with Vets who seem to have a different philosophy. To each his own…and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! 🙂


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