Muzzle it! The nuanced politics of bite prevention in pets
Ever been to your vet and been told your pet WILL be muzzled? Does it sound any better if they ASK if they can apply a muzzle? What if they tell you gently that “for our safety we’re going to put a muzzle on her, OK? It won’t hurt, I promise.”
In my personal experience, it’s all about the WAY in which the issue is broached. But different vets and different hospitals have different styles and policies with respect to the muzzling thing.
Some hospitals put safety first. It’s policy. That means that almost all pets (sometimes puppies and kittens included) are muzzled. I think that’s over the top. But it’s a surefire way to ensure you won’t get bit—unless, that is, the pet becomes more aggressive when approached with the muzzle and bites you. It happens more often than you might think.
Other practices are “soft-hearted,” preferring to judge the situation and the pet’s personality before whipping out the Hannibal Lecter facemask.
Interestingly, we’re often being more “soft-hearted” to YOU than to your pet in these instances. Pets typically don’t mind the muzzle as much as it seems their owners do. After all, they’re already frightened of the smells, the sounds, the needles, and the restraint—not to mention the fecal rod and nail trim. One more thing isn’t usually going to take things over the edge.
But owners don’t always see it that way. For some, witnessing a muzzling or seeing any other similar restraining device applied to their pet is tantamount to an admission of guilt for somehow being a “bad pet parent.” Owner resentment runs high at times on this issue, even when it’s obvious the animal is threatening the staff.
The problem with owner perception in these cases is usually twofold:
1. Most owners can’t read animals the way we can. When you work with pets for a living you get pretty proficient at recognizing a threat when you see one. Sure, some vets and techs are more sensitive to this than most, but our instincts are often all we have to go on.
2. Most owners don’t understand the risks we take on a regular basis. They’ve never seen their dog bite—and I usually take them at their word on this—but the vet hospital is NOT the place to be testing the boundaries of her aggression.
Having said this, it’s now time to mention that not every vet or tech has the same risk profile. Some of us are more willing to take chances than others. Some vets and techs are actually afraid of certain animals—sometimes irrationally, but more often the direct result of a bad experience.
Getting burned (especially if it happened recently) has a way of eliciting a stress response that may seem excessive to even the most experienced pet owner. Nonetheless, it’s a perfectly appropriate psychological response. And as long as the muzzle is not applied with force or heavy-handedness (and assuming that appropriately gentle treatment follows), pet owners should respect the hospital’s decision on this.
At my place of work we’ve been suffering a bit of a crisis on this issue lately. Though no one has been badly bitten in eight years (badly enough to see a physician), some staff members have approached me about my too-lax muzzle protocol and “too-soft” attitude when it comes to handling the animals.
They’re probably right. We’ve dodged that statistic bullet for years now; we’re just about due for a bite. More than that, I recognize that in my desire to please clients by demonstrating my faith in their pets’ even-temperedness, I sometimes go too far. In some cases I definitely put myself at greater risk than I should. And that would be OK—it’s a personal decision after all—were it not for the fact that I’m responsible for protecting my staff, too.
With this discussion in mind, please have patience with your hospital when it comes to muzzling and bite prevention. Try to look at things from our point of view. Accustom your pet to a muzzle if you’re concerned about the excess stress it may cause at the vet. And, above all, don’t worry about the muzzle too much. Though it may look uncomfortable and bruise the ego somewhat, it really doesn’t hurt. I promise.
Image: kudrashka-a / Shutterstock
Last reviewed on August 3, 2015