A Vet's Guide to Not Getting Bitten by Her Patients

Dog in Muzzle at Vet
Protective gear like muzzles and gloves can help clinic staff avoid bites from nervous animals.

To veterinarians and our intrepid team members, it often seems like it’s raining teeth. To be precise, 42 teeth from dogs and 30 from cats. That’s a lot of teeth to dodge!

When I consider the 30-plus human-pet interactions I engaged in just yesterday, it becomes apparent that the odds are not in my favor. And some of my hospital team members have it way worse.

Ways to Keep the Skin Intact

The way I see it, anyone who owns a pet or comes in contact with dogs or cats could benefit from a few tips on avoiding getting bitten. To that end, I’ve written a little cheat sheet that describes my personal approach to staying out of harm’s way — in seven simple steps.

1. Read the pet, but trust your gut. Reading an animal’s body language is essential to knowing how to approach him. All species have characteristic body postures, facial expressions and vocalizations that clue you in to what’s happening in their heads. It only makes sense that you might want to become well-versed in these.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners offers a great primer on reading feline body language. And the ASPCA offers a simple guide on canine body language.

Regardless of the pet’s posture, however, there are times when I get a gut feeling that things are not as they should be. It’s never a good idea to trust body language alone.

2. Ask the owner and you shall (often) receive. Pet owners often know more than they let on. They sometimes simply assume I know what I'm doing. Which is why they hold their tongues, thinking they might upset the flow of things if they offer me advice.

Meanwhile, when I'm on the business end of the exam table, I can thinkI’ve got this, when, in truth, I’d probably avoid a lot of trial-and-error and potential puncture wounds if I simply asked up front, “Has Fluffy ever been aggressive with anyone before?” or “Does he sometimes get aggressive when he’s nervous?”

These simple questions can be magical when it comes to the preservation of one’s flesh.


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