Muzzling Debate: What’s the Problem with Keeping Pets and People Safer at the Vet’s?
For the life of me, I can't figure out why anyone would protest the use of a muzzle.
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?
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.