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Issue: 71 - Nov 14, 2014
Stress the Pet - Stress the Vet
By: Sally J Foote DVM, CABC-IAABC
Dr Sally Foote

Many of the veterinary publications have been addressing work related stress in veterinary medicine. Our profession experiences stress from many different areas. High student debt, client expectations, and compassion fatigue are some of the common factors that contribute to our stress. All of this is true, but there is one more work-related stress that is unspoken in veterinary medicine. This is the stress and frustration we feel when we try to care for pets that erupt in aggression or shiver in fear when they are in our clinics. This fear of veterinary care is also keeping pets out of our clinics due to the stress the owners feel. If you have not read the Pet Partners report for 2014 on veterinary usage, please do. One of the 3 leading reasons why clients are still not coming in for care is the stress they and their pets feel coming to the veterinary clinic. So pet fear also adds to the financial stress we feel from work.

I personally think that the frustration and disappointment we feel when a dog or cat aggresses at the staff is the unspoken, unrecognized stress that affects us daily. It is unspoken because it is assumed to be uncontrollable. So if you can't do anything about it, why talk about it? Until one takes those first steps, reducing pet anxiety witnessing the results, you don't think there is anything to help this situation. When you see how Adaptil calms the pet, or try a cowl towel wrap on a cat experiencing how much better the exam goes, then you begin to understand how to make this situation better. After a little while many staff report how they are feeling less agitated and frustrated at work.

Sure, there are still frustrations with staff, certain owners and the like. But now the chill you got up the back of your neck knowing an aggressive dog is waiting in the exam room not happening as often. Fewer cat bites and scratches make for a much better day, even in the face of hit by car emergencies. Many staff from clinics using low stress handling talk about how they now love their job and don't feel as worn out at the end of the day.

As my tech said "Now the animals don't hate us - they love us" and another said “No matter how sad the last appointment was, to see a dog dragging it's owner in the building not out, or hear a cat purring on the exam table lifts my spirits.”   

For me as a veterinarian I feel more competent - I know why the pet is responding with fear. I have the knowledge to make the situation better and I use it. I am old enough to recall when there was very little knowledge about pain management. To see an animal in pain was very upsetting and frustrating. Many older pets were euthanized for this reason alone and we had little to offer.  Now, when presented with a geriatric arthritic patient we immediately have a plan for reducing pain safely and effectively for both dogs and cats. Incorporating pain management strategies also reduced staff stress for post op care, geriatric care, and emergency care. I see embracing pet-friendly practice measures as a similar game changer for clinics. 

In the end, by recognizing early fear and addressing it we will also encourage clients to come in for care. This, in turn, will help with revenue thus reducing the financial stress many clinics and staff feel.

Think about it - how would you feel to see all the dogs coming in for care dragging their owner in not out, and cats rubbing up against you in a happy greeting? I think that would make you feel pretty good - a stress reducer in itself.  Please e-mail or call me and tell me how using low stress handling - rewarding during the exam is affecting your job related stress. 

As a member of the Fear Free Practice board, I am seeking these testimonials as I educate veterinarians and staff across the country. I want to have more stories to share with others to help change veterinary medicine. Please go to my website, use my articles and watch my videos at my you tube channel drsallyjfoote to educate your staff.

Thanks Dr Sally J Foote DVM  CABC-IAABC