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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Aggression in Pets is a Fact of Life – Here’s How to Accept and Deal With It

Last week, I accepted the position of official nail clipper for my Dad’s cat, Polly, also known as Demon Kitty. It was a long time coming, though Dad didn’t know it.


From the time she arrived on their doorstep, she had a typical calico attitude with the added bonus of an extra toe on each front foot, which meant nail trimmings were always an epic rodeo. After ten years of battle, he finally tired of dealing with it himself and called on the family pro.


For all the years I’ve been a vet, I’ve only been bitten a handful of times (thankfully!) In each of those instances, I did see it coming and ignored the warning cues, trying to placate an owner who insisted we didn’t need to do what we normally did when dealing with potential biters. I got over that real fast, and have been fine ever since.


Some people get very offended when their pet is labeled aggressive in any form, and I understand that feeling, but it is what it is. I also understand that the pet may be perfectly fine at home and only a stinker in the clinic—I would be too! The vet office can be a scary place!


It’s not necessarily a bad thing for a pet to be like that. What is bad—what is in fact much worse—is ignoring the reality of the situation and failing to take steps to avoid potentially dangerous outcomes.


If you have a pet that is potentially aggressive at the vet, or at the dog park, or at getting his or her nails trimmed, there are a few steps you should take to help improve everyone’s lives—including theirs!


  1. Admit there is a problem. Isn’t that always the first step? If your pet hates the vet or can’t go on a walk without growling at the dog down the street, ignoring the behavior won’t make it go away and will often make it worse. Accept it so you can start dealing with it.
  1. Discuss the situation with your vet. Aggression can have its roots in many places, from fear to hormones to even medical conditions such as pain. If your pet is fine everywhere except the vet, I want to know! I can try to reduce their stress in the office, make sure my staff is protected with a muzzle if needed, and even offer your pet sedation.

    Sedation, or chemical restraint as we sometimes call it, can be a beautiful thing. We can help eliminate medical causes of aggression. And if need be, we can refer you to a behaviorist so the problem doesn’t escalate.

  1. Set your pet up for success by avoiding triggers, if possible. I don’t know why so many people with dog-aggressive dogs insist on going to dog parks. It happens all the time, and it usually ends with blood and people yelling at each other. Use a mobile groomer if your pet freaks out at the facility.
  1. Be honest. When my dad threw in the towel and admitted he needed help with Polly, he first tried some mobile groomers because he was trying not to inconvenience me. He was honest and said she was sometimes a handful. They all declined to come, telling him to go to the vet for a sedated trim, which was the correct response.

    Imagine if he tried to trick them by feigning ignorance and they came out, only to leave after wasting their time trying to handle her? People pull those tricks all the time, and it only makes everyone more frustrated.


In Polly’s case, I had the luxury of trying a few things and we actually managed to get her trimmed without sedation. Cat burritos are a lovely thing. She didn’t have to go in a carrier. I got a free lunch and some extra time with my dad out of the deal, so it worked out for everyone.


Aggression happens, and we’re used to dealing with it, so don’t be afraid to bring it up with your vet. But we can’t help you unless you’re open to the conversation!


Do you have an occasionally agressive pet? What ways have you found are best for dealing with it? 


Comments  2

Leave Comment
  • Dealing with Pet Owners
    03/02/2016 01:42pm

    Great post - one of the hard parts about veterinary practice, particularly vet nursing, is communicating effectively with pet owners who don't always understand animal behaviour, patterns or causes. Very informative read, thanks! - www.synergyvets.com

  • Calm vet environment
    03/07/2016 04:39am

    We had been going to an animal hospital, which had worked for us with our previous dog, but our current dog was not comfortable due to the chaotic environment of an animal hospital which had a revolving door of patients both for regular and emergency visits. We were recommended to a vet that is known for its calm environment. They do the following things to help keep the patients calm - they have a "Pet Acoustics" device that plays calming music. They have a calming lavender scent. And, when it's time for the actual service to be provided, i.e. general check-up, shots, stitches, etc. they take the patient (dog) out of the room to a nearby area to eliminate any stress/negative energy from the owners. Our dog was bit in his foster home 2 times by other dogs in the same area of the neck, so he is reactive when people get near his neck. At our first general check-up, the vet took full bloodwork, and was able to draw blood from the neck. It was an unbelievable experience given his previous history with neck issues.

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