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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Treats are not bribes - especially at the vet office

If you have ever brought your pet to my clinic, you know that every single staff member  will try lots of ways to help your pet be less upset during the visit.  Over the years we have become very creative  using towels, treats, happy voices and even taking off our white coats to make the visit less stressful.  While this may seem like a lot more work at first, it really saves a lot of time and work in the long run.  And that is what really counts - the long run.
This how I examine a timid cat

 High volume    - get them in get them out veterinary visits are easy on the pocket book but not on the  pet, vet or owner.    Why would I want to just rush you in and out?  This approach leaves  little time to fully  examine your pet and inform you about what is best for your pet.  The wham - bam approach leaves you to the internet, magazines or television to get your pet information which is not always accurate..  Rushed visits taking your   to "the back"  it often increases the stress for your pet.  "What are they doing to my baby?" you may wonder. 

 Many clinics focus on efficiency by taking the pet to a treatment area where the trained technician and veterinarian work together.  Many lawyers have strongly counseled veterinarians  to take this approach. Why?   Owners who become bitten, scratched have sued veterinary clinics even when the owner insisted on restraining their pet. Often  these  owner won large monetary judgements so the resulting solution was do not allow the owner anywhere near the pet while at the vet.  So the legal advice focuses on the liability of the veterinarian ,not the pet's experience and behavior.At our office, we use our technical staff to reward the pet in all areas of the office. This will take a little more time the first visit or 2, but soon the pets are co operating much better to go to the exam area and we allow the clients to stay as the techs handle the pets in a low stress manner.  It is a win -win for pet, staff and owner.
treats in the waiting area - calm not nervous

Through all of this, we have ignored the effect on the pet.  Finally the tide is starting to turn.  Veterinary technicians, assistants, and veterinarians are becoming educated to identify pets showing anxiety and pain during the veterinary exam.  The early signs of fear need to be recognized to change the methods of handling to reduce stress on the pet.  This is a new concept in handling animals.  Classes are not routinely taught on this in college - it is at the post graduate convention level that many veterinarians and staff are learning how to reliably read the signs of low grade pain, fear, and aggression.  When we immediately start to offer treats or use a calming spray, our  clients comment about how this exam is one of  easiest exams on their pet ever.  They are often amazed when their little terrier  now accepts the muzzle with treats and is not attempting to bite.  The few minutes of rewarding, and reducing stress makes each visit quicker, more complete and safer for the staff and the pet. .
this dog hated her nails clipped until she got treats

When clients call around looking for a veterinarian, often the first questions are about the cost of care. Sure care costs money and there are different prices at different clinics.  Not all clinics are managed, staffed and operated exactly the same.  This is often where the price difference comes in.  When a clinic takes a minimum of 30 minutes for a wellness exam, they charge more since they have more time and staff involved.  This time is often spent in making the exam less upsetting for your pet, as well as time to help educate you.  Ask the clinics you call what will they be doing - ask if they use less stressful handling techniques and rewarding.  If they stumble to answer - keep calling around until you find a place that puts your pets mental/emotional needs ( and yours) equal with the physical needs.
Even cats get treats during exams!

  Yes, my clinic charges more than some others in my area - and charges less than others too.  When you come here you get that longer exam, the licensed Certified Veterinary Technician, and time with me, the doctor doing all we can to decrease the stress of the visit for your pet.  I am committed to less stressful handling and rewarding during exams because it is in the best interest of your pet and my staff.  I cringe now when I see  a dog trembling in fear at another clinic and more and more handlers are called in to restrain this fearful dog.  It can be better. See my videos on my youtube channel drsallyjfoote   and you will understand the difference.

As I present the concept of Bella Behavior - rewarding and recording what helps this pet to have the least stressed exam - I see staff starting to understand how and why low stress handling is best.  Practice by practice change is happening.  Be a part of that change by choosing a low stress clinic.