Once again, Carol Bryant from Fidose of Reality and myself, have decided to bring together our experiences in order to give you two sides to the same story. If you missed our inaugural post of Medicine versus Mom, you can check it out here.
If you aren’t familiar with Carol Bryant, she is a good friend and fellow pet blogger. She is the founder and CEO of Fidose of Reality. If you haven’t checked out her blog, your really should! As a seasoned blogger and writer she brings her dedicated pet parent perspective to share will all “Dog Lovers of the Highest Order”. Her posts are always a must read for me, and for any other pet parent out there. As we progress through our Medicine versus Mom series, I hope to share with your even more reasons why Carol is awesome!
Today we want to discuss a very fragile topic in the animal world: the muzzle.
As a former veterinary technician, I have muzzled quite a few animals in my time (yes, they also make cat muzzles), and I always seemed to get different reactions from pet parents about their dog’s being muzzled. Usually, pet parents fall into one of the following categories:
They don’t ever want their dog to be muzzled under any circumstance.
They understand that their dog needs to be muzzled under certain circumstances, but they are still not comfortable with the idea.
They know that their dog may need to be muzzled and are indifferent to the situation.
They know that their dog may need to be muzzled and are supportive of the decision.
They know their dog needs to be muzzled for certain situations and they give the veterinarian and their staff that information up front.
Whether or not you identify strongly with one of the above categories, if you are a pet parent who’s dog has needed a muzzle, I guarantee you were uncomfortable with the idea at one point of another, but I hope today to give you information that will make you slightly more comfortable.
Firstly, I want to say that my experience as a veterinary technician has taught me that both cats and dogs only know how to say “Ouch!” in a few ways…one of those ways is biting. Shoot, some humans bite doctors, dentists and nurses, and we have plenty of ways to speak up for ourselves….so I completely understand why a dog would bite someone who was poking them with needles and they didn’t understand why.
That being said, a veterinarian can’t allow their staff to get injured constantly, so the staff must protect themselves in order to do their job, but I can say for certain we always have the pet’s best interests in mind.
For example, lets say that you were at the vet’s office with your new rescue dog, and you know your dog needs a nail trim, but you have no idea how he feels about them. So you tell the vet that he is new to your family and you have no existing information, and they whisk him to the back for his nail trim. You know everything will be okay, but you are very nervous about what happens when they take him to the back.
Once in the back, the veterinary staff will access your dog’s stance and general behavior before proceeding with any procedures.
Firstly, we kneel down (if it’s a big dog), or we pick up (if it’s a little dog) so that we are at eye level and not looking down at your dog and being intimidating. Then we get a feel for how they feel about us…is there any shaking? Nervous tail wagging? Hair raising? Or are they taking treats and being very friendly? Lets say in this example, your new dog is being friendly, but still a little nervous.
Many people think this is where we put the muzzle on, but we always give a dog the benefit of the doubt. If they are not showing signs of aggression, we don’t put a muzzle on. We understand that in some situations, adding a muzzle to the mix will only make things worse…not better.
Once we are ready to trim their nails, we try one of two different restraining techniques:
The first and most commonly used restraining technique is putting them on their side and holding their lower limbs so that they can’t spin and get up (see above). Some dogs make it clear that they don’t like this restraining technique by doing what we call, “barrel rolling”. Typically, they don’t like this type of restraint because it is very dominant. (I can say for certain Rooney hates this type of restraint, and I think holding his short legs actually hurts his hips, so I hold him like a baby with his feet up in the air). If your pet has given us signs that they don’t like this type of restraint by being wiggly, but not showing any signs of biting, we still don’t put a muzzle on.
Typically, decisions to muzzle, or not, are made by the technician who is doing the restraining. We communicate to the other staff members involved what type of “feeling” we are getting from the animal. Throughout the visit, there is a trust built between the animal and myself. We get a good sense of how comfortable each of us is in that particular situation.
If the restraining technician is getting the sense that your dog just didn’t like that type of restraint, we move to the horse style technique, which is where we have them stand while being supported from their belly, and we pick up one limb at a time to trim their nails.
If your dog did get “mouthy” with the restraining technician, and show that they weren’t comfortable, we would decide to place a muzzle on them in order to complete the necessary techniques, especially if the treatments are imperative to their health (i.e. a non-nail trim).
If the muzzle makes the situation worse, and your pet is clearly becoming stressed, we will remove the muzzle and let your pet calm down. IF their only reason for being in the back is the nail trim, and ESPECIALLY if this is their very first visit, we will offer to wait until another day and try to give them treats and love to make their experience a more positive memory.
We may also suggest that your pet come back for “happy visits”, where you bring them in and we just give them treats and then they go home. This is a desensitization technique that we used often for dogs who were skiddish.
Sometimes, when we muzzle dogs, it is the solution to being able to provide them with veterinary care. We also make a point to notify the pet parents so that you are aware of the situation, and maybe will be able to correct it in the future.
I will be honest with you, when I first got Rooney I restrained him for nail trims, and he did bite my hand, and so he had to be muzzled. I felt bad that I had to put him through stressful situations like this, but they were necessary. By trying different restraining techniques and providing lots of treats, we are now able to trim his nails at home with no muzzle. This took time, but we were able to work through it.
As a pet parent, I urge you to have an open dialog with your veterinarian, and find a veterinarian who is willing to be honest with you. The last thing you want is to have your pet being muzzled, and you being blindly unaware that they ever felt uncomfortable at the vet’s office. In my experience vets who are open and honest and willing to try new techniques, have both you and your pet’s best interest at heart.
For Carol’s Dog Mom point of view on Muzzles please see her post, here.
Was this information helpful? Does your pet need to be muzzled? How did that make you feel?
P.S. Medical Monday’s will return next week (sorry for the delay)