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6 canine wellness don'ts, 7 dos

VettedVetted May 2020
Volume 115
Issue 5

Commit to a better veterinary clinic experience for dogs. Pick one or two of these to try, or reinforce the ones youve done so far. Reap the rewards. Repeat.


Check out this cat waiting alcove. Find a spot for one somewhere in your practice or hustle patients directly into your exam rooms. (All photos courtesy author)

6 don'ts to avoid for canine wellness visits

No. 1: Don't mix dogs and cats. It's upsetting to the cats, agitates the dogs, and aggravates everyone else. (See that cat waiting alcove above.)

No. 2: Don't forget the trazodone. Some dogs need a little help getting in the door without being overwhelmed. A little anxiolytic can go a long way for some dogs.

No. 3: Don't neglect dental care. With everything else to think about in a patient visit, it's easy to forget the teeth. Tired of explaining to Fluffy's owner why they need a cleaning again? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Dentalhome care makes everyone's life better.

No. 4: Don't get stuck on single doses of preventives. Sure, it's easier to sell a client in the short run, but how often do we see dogs back next year and all they ever got was that one dose? Getting the whole year of preventives out the door makes it more likely our patients are going to receive them.

No. 5: Don't forget to ask about behavior. Behavioral problems are a top reason that dogs are surrendered to shelters. Just because a dog looks healthy doesn't mean all is well at home. Make sure to ask about behavior issues, and be prepared with resources to help our dogs stay in their forever home.

No. 6: Don't overuse muzzles. Muzzles are a valuable tool when used appropriately, but they can become a crutch that enables rough handling or a patch to paper over problems in poor scheduling and staffing. Yes, the muzzle can make sure you get the nail trim done today, but is it worth the behavioral imprinting that will cause you to need to sedate the dog for every nail trim after? (If you really need a muzzle for a particular patient, make it as pleasant as possible and train the patient to like it.)

Now for the dos …

This dog digs cheese. Find the high-value treats each individual patient loves to make an exam room visit not so frightening and unpleasant.

6 dos to make great canine wellness visits

No. 1: Be welcoming. Anticipate who's coming in the door, and be prepared with a warm greeting and a favorite treat.

No. 2: Manage your reception area. Retractable leashes are trouble indoors. Designate a reception-area traffic control team member who can politely but firmly enforce reasonable rules to make people and pets more comfortable.

No. 3: Offer lots of positive rewards. Food is great-and so are balls, squeaky toys and other things that work for non-food-motivated dogs.

No. 4: Set up and use hospital-wide standards of care. Make sure your patients and clients get the same message no matter which doctors or technicians they see. This better ensures nothing gets missed.

No. 5: Remember to read dogs' body language. It's easy to get caught up in a busy day and forget to look at the subtle signs they give us, especially fearfulness or nervousness.

No. 6: Be sure to look at lifestyle. Don't get caught up in giving everything to everyone or making breed assumptions. A Yorkie on the farm? They exist, so make sure all your dogs are getting the right combination of preventive care for the unique life they live.

No. 7: Schedule the next appointment. You don't leave your dentist without scheduling the next wellness check-do the same in your veterinary practice. Get the next appointment scheduled to make sure there are no gaps in care.

A sample next-appointment card.

Dr. Michael Nappier is assistant professor of community practice in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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