Journal Scan: Guide for creating a pet-friendly practice
Creating a low-stress environment will not only make your patients and their owners happy, but will also help decrease the risk of injury to you and your staff. The authors of this article discuss why creating a low-stress environment will make patients easier to handle and increase office visits since “the perceived fear and distress an animal feels as a result of a veterinary visit is a major reason why owners avoid bringing their pets to the veterinarian.”
Do some preliminary planning
Before you even lay hands on a patient, the authors describe assessments you can make to help ensure a more positive interaction. These include:
Assessing the environment. Reduce visual, olfactory and auditory stimuli by using low lighting, speaking softly and avoiding sudden movements. Also consider using calming pheromone sprays or diffusers.
Evaluating body language. This applies to the patient’s body language as well as your own. The authors note that animals nonverbally communicate their emotional states clearly if we listen. The same can be said about our own body language, so the authors recommend things such as turning to the side rather than directly facing a dog, avoiding prolonged eye contact and avoiding leaning over a patient. The authors also provide a helpful table of common feline and canine body language postures and how to interpret them.
Making a handling plan. For example, consider staggering nonessential procedures over multiple, shorter visits if possible. This prioritization should also take into account the level of pain and invasiveness of the procedure. The authors recommend keeping a record of what worked and didn’t work with respect to handling at each visit so that it can be used to guide future visits.
The authors also review methods of restraint and recommend using “the least restraint necessary to safely perform the procedure.” In addition to physical restraint, the authors discuss chemical restraint and provide protocols for both feline and canine patients. They discuss a variety of handling tools such as muzzles, pheromones, caps that limit visual stimuli, towels and Elizabethan collars, including multiple photos depicting many of these products in action.
Counter stress with counterconditioning
The use of counterconditioning methods is also discussed and how these may be used to help mitigate the fear and stress of the veterinary visit over time. This involves coupling unpleasant or negative experiences with something positive such as a highly palatable treat (e.g. squeeze cheese or chicken or turkey baby food). Procedures that would benefit from counterconditioning measures include nail trims, otoscopic examinations, blood draws and injections.
Get owners involved
In addition to the methods discussed to decrease the fear and anxiety dogs and cats experience in the veterinary setting, the authors also provide information to help educate owners on things they can do at home to prepare their pets for visits to the veterinarian. These include ways to make the carrier more attractive by using treats, familiar bedding and pheromones and by placing a towel over the carrier when getting in and out of the car or entering the vet clinic to decrease visual and olfactory stimuli.
Herron ME, Shreyer T. The pet-friendly veterinary practice: a guide for practitioners. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 2014;44(3):451-481.
Link to abstract: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24766695