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.