How Not to Get Scratched or Bitten!

Presenter – Justyna Ratczak DVM, PG Dip(CABC) MRCVS of Abbey House Veterinary Hospital, West Yorkshire.

Being bitten or scratched is one of those hazards we come to expect in every day practice, and although at some point it is bound to happen, there are ways we can keep these risks to a minimum. Last week’s veterinary webinar organised by The Webinar Vet discussed ways in which we can alter our behaviour in the consulting room to positively change the behaviour of our patients.

Behaviourist and veterinary surgeon Justyna Ratczak led this veterinary webinar and started by emphasizing that ‘prevention is better than cure’. Puppy parties are a great opportunity to socialise puppies with other dogs and a great way to get them used to the practice and staff. Although kitten classes are run in the USA, Ms Ratczak advised against them as cats are solitary animals, not comfortable mixing with other cats. However organised kitten evenings aimed at owners only are a useful alternative.

In the consulting room, I admit to having a preference for cats but if given the choice I would much rather deal with a vicious Rottweiler over a ferocious cat any day of the week. So any tips from Ms Ratczak to help keep me on the right side of my feline friends are gratefully received.

This advice centred around cats needing to feel as though they are in control, so my usual technique of sticking my hands straight into their personal space(their cage) and pulling them out by their front legs doesn’t seem at all appropriate. By leaving the cage door open whilst taking a history from the client gives the cat an opportunity to come out of its own free will whilst continuing to feel ‘in control’. As we all know it is not always that easy and encouraging owners to use a basket where the lid can be removed is another recommended method of examination, allowing the cat to feel secure whilst remaining within the basket. If a cat is petrified, covering its head with its own towel or blanket can be very helpful as cats tend to think they are hidden as long as they can’t see us. Asking an owner to spray the cat basket with Feliway 15 minutes prior to putting the cat in the basket and using a plug in diffuser within the consulting room can also be really useful.

Cats are notoriously difficult to read but dogs are on the other end of the spectrum and tend to wear their heart on their sleeve. I’m guessing this is the reason I have only ever been bitten by a dog once in my career whereas the number of cat scratches and bites I have received is numerous. According to Ms Ratczak, the key with dogs is to minimize any threatening behaviour by never staring at a dog directly in the eye and never cornering a dog or allowing yourself to be cornered. The use of food distraction by giving treats when performing procedures such as injections can also be really useful and provides a good association for next time.

Of course there will always be outwardly aggressive cats and dogs in the consulting room, and sedation will be necessary in these cases where examination is likely to be traumatic for patients, their owners and attending vets. If sedation is necessary then it is always worth considering the use of benzodiazepines as they have an amnesic affect and can be used to block bad experiences.

This veterinary webinar has provided a number of useful suggestions and explanations behind the behaviour of our patients and if I can put into practice what I have learnt then with a little luck 2013 will be a bite and scratch free year.


The Stethoscope MRCVS

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *