The week of May 15th is national bite prevention week. Hopefully your staff is recommending ways to help our clients prevent bites from dogs and cats. Be a tree or a rock should be the motto ringing in our clients ears whenever they see a stray dog. Do you know the 2 questions everyone should ask before petting any animal? "Is this pet nice?" and "Can I pet it?" are the questions all children and adults should ask before touching any pet. Dr. Wayne Hunthausen produced an excellent video on bite prevention which is where these recommendations come from. If you have not seen it, I would highly recommend you get a copy and have all your staff watch it; it is a good one to play in your waiting room, or exam room also.
Approximately 95% of the workman’s compensation injury claims to the AVMA-PLIT are due to dog and cat bites and scratches to staff. There is a real financial as well as morale impact when injuries occur. It is possible for your clinic to decrease bite risk. Here are some fundamentals, from an animal behavioral point of view, to reduce the frequency of bites to staff.
One fundamental is to understand why the dog or cat is biting. The most frequent reasons are fear and pain. Both of these motivators are often working at the same time. If the dog or cat is in pain, they are also afraid of handling because that will cause more pain. So when we are presented with a dog with an ear infection, we should first think of how to decrease the painfulness of the exam before proceeding. If we can decrease the pain, we will decrease the likelihood of a bite. Use pain relievers, sedatives and less stressful handling techniques to minimize the escalation into biting. How often do you jump into back x-rays on patients with back pain before the pain relievers have started to work? Evaluate how quickly you need to get all the diagnostics performed on a pet that is frightened or in pain. Consider using pain relievers such as local anesthetics, inject able anti inflammatory (give the time for them to work) or anti anxiety medications before jumping into multiple procedures. Take control of your appointments. If this exam will take longer, consider keeping the animal for a while in the clinic to have the time for medications to work, or treat what you safely can now and schedule a recheck in 24-48 hours. We often rush through appointments without considering the full impact on the patient or our own safety.
Are you using rewards throughout the exam to help this pet behave its best? Rewards help to get that pet in a better, less frightened state of mind. Rewards are more than just food – praise, use of pheromones, and low stress handling is all methods of rewards. Recording the preferred rewards for this patient is one of the best ways of insuring consistent handling by all the staff which in turn should reduce staff injury. Now no matter who is handling this pet, they can set up that exam for success and less risk of injury.
Educate yourself and your staff on cat and dog body language, especially subtle cues that show the pet becoming more fearful or painful. Recognizing the early body language signs of anxiety or pain can help your staff use less stressful handling, or alert the veterinarian that some tranquilizer or other medication is needed. One of the biggest factors in staff injury from bites is the misinterpretation of what the animal is telling us. Often the staff holds tighter, resulting in more struggling and resistance until the animal has nothing left to do but bite.
You can learn more about body language, the benefits of rewarding during the exam, and the medical record label system to make staff interactions safer and more consistent at www.drsallyjfoote.com. Go to the resources page and see the videos, blog and other information. I recently gave a webinar through ImproMed covering body language with examples. Look out for future webinars through ImproMed or www.drsallyjfoote.com.