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Behavior

Muzzling Debate: What’s the Problem with Keeping Pets and People Safer at the Vet’s?
April 13, 2012 (published)

I was thinking about the one ‘hot button’ issue that I have faced many times in the course of my career — now in its 15th year (I am trying to take the counsel of the years with grace, but that’s starting to seem like a long damn time).

This issue would be muzzles.

I see many dogs and cats in practice who would just rather not be at the hospital with a yahoo in a white coat listening to their heart, palpating their giblets and grabbing their junk. I can’t blame them — I often think a trip to the veterinary hospital must be kinda like alien abduction for pets. One minute, they are happily munching away at their kibbles (and possibly bits, as well), the next they have been stuffed in a carrier, taken for a scary car ride, and now somebody is putting a thermometer in their whatsits.

Some of these patients try and defend themselves the only way they know how –  with their teeth. Animal bites are a very real part of the profession, and I know many colleagues who have suffered severe bites that have put them out of commission for several days, or even longer. They can also cost real money in terms of medical bills and missed work time. And the emotional toll of the bite can leave scars that take forever to go away, along with the visible scars.

The danger is not limited to just veterinarians and technicians –  I have encountered many pet owners who have picked up their injured pet and sustained some nasty bites as well.  I learned this from “Wild Kingdom” as a kid — injured animals can be unpredictable. Thanks, Marlin Perkins!

Our answer to this risk is often to use a muzzle on pets who pose a risk –  but that’s where the trouble begins.

Lots of owners look at me as if I just asked to set their pet aflame when I inquire if I can put a muzzle on their pet (we have muzzles for cats, too — they cover the face and eyes and tend to calm them, as well as preventing bites).

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone would protest the use of a muzzle. They are typically made of soft nylon (and, for some reason, almost always blue –  seems there is some sort of worldwide excess of blue nylon somewhere, and some entrepreneur just decided “Muzzles! Billions of muzzles!”). They can be adjusted to fit perfectly, and do not cause discomfort or pain in any way.  The pets usually don’t react at all to them, although a few will make attempts to remove them. In a very few cases, the muzzle will set them off, and incite some pretty earnest attempts at de-muzzle-ification, but in the vast majority of cases the patients just sit there, thinking “Heh – I have blue lips! Looks funny! Blue lips! Look, Mom and Dad — lips are blue! Do you have any food Look, something shiny!

From our standpoint, the perspective of the potential bitee, a muzzle means I can stop being afraid of the dog or cat (or wallaby, or capybara, or chupacabra) and focus on doing a thorough physical exam. I can relax and do my job without fear of injury.

Comfort and no risk for the patient, safety for me and my staff equals happy everybody. What’s not to like in that equation?

But there are those who, for some reason, really are offended at the thought. Common rejoinders are “He’s never bitten anyone!” “He just looks mean –  he won’t bite” and “I have a golden potato monkey hidden in my magical rucksack!” (This last one I have only gotten once, and, to be honest, it had nothing to do with a muzzle — it was just too good not to pass along).

I am a big fan of muzzles. I don’t want to get bitten, I don’t want to have to quarantine a pet who has bitten someone, and I know that even the nicest and most even-tempered dog or cat can bite if provoked by a stranger when they are not feeling well. I have seen it happen countless times. I muzzle my own sweet-tempered dogs when they are ill or I have to do something unpleasant to them (even with appropriate pain control).

Think about this, beloved tiny readers. If your vet wanted to apply a muzzle to your dog or cat, how would you respond?



8 Comments

Nuri
July 26, 2012
I agre that every dog should be trained to be comfortable in a muzzle. Good dog or mad dog, if it has a muzzle you know he *won't* bite. My brother's dog is a good, loving animal, but also with a very strong character (read: stubborn). When he had surgery, there was no way in hell he could stand the lampshade more than 15 seconds; the muzzle that he's used to was the only way to keep him from nibbling at his stitches (that and the command "no!" repeated a zillion times. But at the end a look was enough for him to just sigh in frustratuon and leave the wound alone for 5 more minutes).
Joan
May 17, 2012
Excellent points. After being in veterinary medicine for close to 50 years, I have scars --- often made by pets who "won't bite." There are subtle signs that indicate when a pet is ill enough at easy to protect himself from a perceived threat. If approached in the right manner, most pet owners are grateful for the opportunity to make the visit safer for all involved. Unfortunately, a well-meaning owner will continually tell the growling pet that "It's OK." Although they are trying to explain that the SITUATION is OK, the pet seems to interpret this as "My actions are OK." I agree totally with "setting the pet up for success" and "please maintain silence" when the pet is nervous. I have a friend who practices medicine in an ER facility for humans he has scars from human bites. I'll tell my clients that ANYTHING with teeth will bite if that creature feels it is the only way to avoid an unpleasant experience or is frightened enough to just need to bet out. As Holly mentioned, a muzzle potentially can make the difference between survival and not.
Velvet Edwards
May 14, 2012
I will never forget the time a fellow veterinarian was attacked by an Akita. It was gruesome, and he was in the intensive care unit for 3 days with over 200 sutures up his arm, neck and the side of his face. The owners claimed he was a nice dog. They tried to bring another dog in for me to examine and I said "Not unless he is muzzled before I go in the room." They got mad - good thing is they never came back! To this day I cannot fathom why they thought we would ever approach another one of their dogs without a muzzle and extreme caution!
Kerry
May 9, 2012
After watching my newly adopted chihuahua throw an unbelievably nasty fit on the exam table, I said go right ahead! I have no problem with safety measures at the vet clinic.
Cary
May 9, 2012
I own and operate a Pet Grooming Salon for the last 18 yrs. I am a HUGE believer in muzzles. My hands make my money and to keep the dogs/Cats Safe we use them. they do not cause any harm or injury to the animal. Anyone who objects to the use of a muzzle on their dog should find another grooming shop.
Tom
May 8, 2012
Having worked in a veterinary clinic as a tech, I love muzzles. It can defuse a potentially dangerous situation without the use of any kind of med. Its cheaper! However, I find two things really seem to be problematic with the use of muzzles: one is that many people seem to take the suggestion as an insult. "How dare you accuse my dog of being aggressive!" is the general reaction. Another is "he never bites at home!" Well, he's not at home, and he's scared, so you almost have to treat him as a different dog. The second problem I run into is: "I'll let him have a muzzle if I put it on and adjust it." Invariably, the owner puts the muzzle on drooping off the back of his pet's neck and refuses to tighten it for fear of choking his pet. It renders the muzzle completely useless. Just remember that you never know how a dog or cat will react when it's in a completely new and terrifying environment, and if the vet asks to put on a muzzle, he's concerned for the safety of his staff and for the pet. It shows professionalism and maturity, and you should be thankful that the vet is taking every precaution, rather than possibly letting a bite happen and injuring a tech and having the dog or cat impounded for biting.
Dr. Kathy Morris
May 8, 2012
We need to set the pet up for success, and muzzling some pets allows for a much better outcome in both diagnosis and safety. Another helpful technique is for the owners to be quiet, and NOT talk to, or pet the pet, while the veterinarian is examining it. Too much sensory input just escalates the excitement and/or anxiety. Many owners talk to their pet, thinking that they are offering reassurance, when in reality, the opposite is true.
Blueberry's human
May 4, 2012
I owned a dog that had to have a muzzle put on her at the vet's. She was scared and reacted like a lot of dogs do - by biting. I wasn't upset at all when the vet put a muzzle on her. As a matter of fact - I went out and bought her one and would place it on her myself as soon as the vet would enter the exam room. I don't understand people that would react so negatively to having their pet muzzled - it's really for the safety of everyone involved and doesn't hurt them.
Holly
May 2, 2012
My response would be: if you don't feel safe, let me put the muzzle on. You can adjust it. The chances of my dog (or cat) biting ME for putting it on are less than if you do it so let me put it on, then you tighten/loosen it as you see fit. Several years ago, I sort of inherited an older dog who was untrustworthy. Until the day he died, every time we went to the vet, he had his mesh muzzle put on at home, and it stayed on until we got back home. It was not his fault he did not trust the vet, but I like my vet FAR too much to ever jeopardize his person with a dog that is likely to bite. Every dog I own is trained to tolerate a muzzle. It's simply another area for them to become comfortable with. Being able to wear a muzzle when badly injured could mean the difference between them surviving or not.

 
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