Armor yourself to prevent pet bites


Firstline data shows 83 percent of team members report they've been bitten in practice. Pet bites are risky business, both for the health of your team members and the associated costs to your practice. In this Team Meeting in a Box, you'll learn how to prevent pet bites and create protocols to keep your team safe.

Welcome to Firstline's Team Training in a Virtual Box, your complete guide to team training. Each lesson is designed to give you all the tools you need to plan an educational staff meeting on a single topic. This lesson plan will examine pet bite safety, including solutions to create a comprehensive bite protocol to prevent bites from happening as well as instructions on how to respond when a bite happens. In each section, you'll find an introduction, a list of discussion points, teaching tools and handouts to help you educate your team.

Click the headlines below to access the meeting tools.

Expert contributors

Thank you to the following experts for their contributions to the material for this meeting:

Kyle Palmer, CVT

Oriana D. Scislowicz, BS, LVT

Phil Seibert, CVT

Mandy Stevenson, RVT

Part 1: Team knowledge

Pet bites pose a serious risk for team members in veterinary practice. And educated team members practicing safe handling techniques and following your protocols will reduce the risk of bites occuring in your practice. The tools will help your team members understand the risks pet bites pose and improve safety in your practice. View Part 1.

Part 2: Implementation

In this second section, your team will take time to review valuable safety tips to avoid getting bitten and write-or review-a safety protocol that keeps team members and pets safer. View Part 2.

Part 3: Client communication

Clients may resist the idea that their precious pooch or cuddly kitty could ever hurt anyone. What clients sometimes don't recognize is pets under stress may behave differently than they would in the comfort and safety of their own homes. In many cases, an ounce of client communication can prevent a pound of problems later. In this section, team members will learn how to communicate effectively with pet owners to prevent pet bites. View Part 3.

Part 4: Marketing and follow-through

It's time to arm your team with the final tools and education they need to understand how every member of the team plays an important role in preventing bites, as well as practice safe handling techniques and review your protocol for how to respond if a bite occurs. View Part 4.


Part 1 resources

Download these handouts and tools before your team meeting:

Part 1: Team knowledge

Being bitten by a pet can be a frightening occurrence, and it happens all too often to team members in veterinary practice.In this team meeting, we will explore tips to protect team members and pets from dangerous situations where bites can occur and offer tips to create your safety protocol to handle bites when they happen. (Before you start your meeting, download a meeting guide and trainer's script that outlines exactly what to say in this meeting.)

To introduce the topic of pet bite safety to your team, count out eight team members in your practice and ask them to stand. (If you don't have eight team members, use an item around your practice-coffee mugs, for example-to count out eight and offer a visual representation.) Explain that eight out of every 10 team members have been bitten in practice, according to recent Firstline research. Your training today will be focused on recognizing why bites are serious business, how to prevent them and what to do when they happen.

5-minute activity: Dish out the data

While dog bites may appear more severe initially, remind team members that cat bites may also pose risks. Print the script “HYH? Cat bites: The peril beyond the pain” for team members. If you have audio and video equipment available, we also recommend playing the three-minute audio file for your team here as an interactive element for your meeting.

Ask team members to raise their hand if they've ever been bitten. Then ask what species did the biting. Invite team members to share their bite experiences. Which was worse? Cat bites or dog bites? To emphasize the risks, share these facts:

  • Most team members report being bitten sometime in their careers. Eighty-three percent of team members say they've been bitten by dogs or cats, according to 2014 Firstline research.

  • Bites were often listed as the most severe workplace injuries, and these most often occurred during animal restraint, according to a work-related bite injuries study report for veterinary technicians certified in Minnesota published in the Aug. 15, 2014, issue of JAVMA.

  • While dog bites are often recognized as serious, cat bites can also present a serious risk for team members. Thirty percent of patients treated for cat bites required hospitalization, and many needed surgical irrigation and wound debridement, according to Mayo Medical School and Clinic research.

10-minute activity: Creating context for safety

Sometimes team members assume getting bitten is part of the job of working with animals. But you never want a bite to happen. And while team members often do their best to prevent a bite, sometimes it still happens. So take a few minutes to watch a video that highlights the risks of cat and dog bites.

Conclude your meeting by thanking team members for their time today. Remind them that next time you'll review some protocols you can create to keep the workplace safe for your team and review your practice's protocols for when a bite happens.

Continue to Part 2: Implementation


Part 2 resources

Download these handouts and tools before your team meeting:

Part 2: Implementation

In Part 1 of your meeting, you discussed some of the risks of pet bites-and why protocols are so important. (Before you start Part 2, download the meeting guide and trainer's script that outlines exactly what to say in this meeting.) Next, let's take a few minutes to discuss the importance of practice protocols. If your practice doesn't have one yet, don't worry. We'll offer samples and guide you through the steps to create one with your team today.

2-minute activity: Bite safety review

It's a good idea to have at least two protocols related to pet bites-the first to help reduce the chances of a bite occurring and the second to handle bites when they do happen. You can review some quick safety tips by watching a quick video about bite safety in practice:

It's simple stuff you already know, and it's a good idea to remember this with every pet and every visit. Post the educational poster “How to live bite-free” in your break room or another staff area in your practice to encourage safety. You can also distribute a smaller handout version to review if you don't have access to equipment to watch the video together.

10-minute activity: Write-or review-your protocols

Now that you have discussed how important protocols are to help prevent bites and handle them when they happen, it's time to create-or review-your practice protocol.

First, review one team's take on a sample safety protocol provided by Silver Creek Animal Clinic in Silverton, Oregon. Then discuss your practice's philosophy about safe handling. For example, what humane restraint methods do you use? Which ones does your practice avoid using? Does your philosophy include any Fear Free handling techniques? (For a review of Fear Free techniques you can implement in practice today, visit

Make a list of the items your team members suggest for the protocol. While the final decision for protocols rests with your practice's leadership team, including input from your entire team will encourage buy-in and compliance once you're ready to implement your policies.

Note: If you don't have a previous protocol, you may need to spend extra time after the meeting to take your team's feedback and create usable protocols that match your practice's safe pet handling philosophy.

In the next meeting you'll review how to communicate with pet owners about your team's safety and explain how protocols protect their pets, too. Thank your team for their time and their input to help develop a safety protocol in your practice.

Continue to Part 3: Client Communication


Part 3 resources

Download these handouts and tools before your team meeting:

Part 3: Client Communication

So far you've discussed the risk of bites and the importance of creating protocols in your practice to prevent bites and to address biting incidents. (Before you start Part 3, download a meeting guide and trainer's script that outlines exactly what to say in this meeting.) Now you'll talk about client communication. In many cases, an ounce of communication can prevent a pound of problems later. Explain to your team that clear communication with pet owners from the beginning can help keep pets, team members and pet owners safer.

7-minute activity: Role-play tough talks

Clients may resist the idea that their precious pooch or cuddly kitty could ever hurt anyone. What clients sometimes don't recognize is pets under stress may behave differently than they would in the comfort and safety of their own homes. Having conversations where you need to muzzle a pet can be a tricky discussion. Pick two team members to role-play this discussion to show how you can introduce the topic without offending pet owners.

We know some team members are wary of role-playing. So expect a few eye rolls when you first suggest this activity. Just remind them it's better to practice together so you're prepared to tackle this tough conversation in the exam room or treatment area with ease. Ask one team member to act out each of the two statements below, and ask a second team member to respond as a client might to these two statements.

Start by presenting this first scenario:

Team member: "We're going to muzzle Muffy so she doesn't bite us when the doctor examines her."

Client: “Muffy is the sweetest little pet in the world. She'd never bite anyone.”

Ask your team what they thought of the team member's statement. What could the team member have said differently?

Now ask your team members to role-play this situation.

Team member: “Does Muffy like treats?”

Client: “She loves them!”

Team member: “ Great! We're going to give her lots of treats in a minute, and we just need to let the doctor perform an examination first. I know Muffy is nervous, and it can feel weird to have the doctor touching her mouth and feet and tummy. The doctor is going to go slowly and be gentle and tell you everything she's doing as she examines Muffy. And to keep Muffy and our veterinary team safe, Muffy needs to wear this little nose cover during the exam. Then we can get to the treats."

Client: “It's just for a few minutes? I guess that's OK.”

Ask your team members what they think of the second conversation. What words can your team members use to put a positive spin on your safety protocols? What words can you avoid? For example, instead of calling a cat “fractious,” could you opt for words like “frisky” that carry less of a negative connotation? Words like “party hat” or “nose warmer” instead of muzzle change the tone of the conversation and keep pet owners on the same page with you-focused on Muffy's health.

Pass out the “Transform your words” handout and ask team members to take a minute to brainstorm their word choices. Invite them to share their top picks. Together, you can build a client-friendly vocabulary to identify pets that might be highly stressed and require special handling.

3-minute discussion: Set limits

Often pet owners will want to help restrain pets, and they can be a distraction. Or this can even put them in the line of fire when Fluffy and Max lose their cool. Consider this sample situation and discuss how your team might handle it:

You're in midst of drawing a blood sample and this client starts petting the cat's head and talking close to his face, causing him to get stressed and jerk out of your reach. These clients also often insist on holding pets themselves, agitate pets in the middle of a procedure and may even stop a procedure.

Ask your team members how they would handle this situation. Then discuss this approach:

Try to find the reasons pet owners insist upon holding their pet. Are they trying to protect their pets? Explain the pet will do better and the procedure will be quicker if the professionals are involved. And there's legal concern if their pets were to bite them. Add that even though Fluffy loves them to pieces at home, Fluffy may shred them to pieces in this stressful environment.

For more invasive procedures that require the doctor's full attention and the patient's cooperation, a good rule may be to separate the client and patient. Tell clients it's in the pet's best interest to complete the procedure quickly.

Last, tread carefully with procedures such as euthanasia with these clients. Thoroughly explain the finality of the decision and make sure they're ready. Using an IV catheter for all euthanasias is more peaceful for the pet and can help avoid a client interrupting the procedure and harming the patient.

This concludes part 3 of your meeting on pet bite safety. Thank team members for sharing their ideas and for their participation. Remind them in the next meeting you'll put all of the pieces together to create a comprehensive safety plan for your team.

Continue to Part 4: Marketing and follow-through


Part 4 resources

Download these handouts and tools before your team meeting:

Part 4: Marketing and follow-through

In this final section, you'll practice and prepare your team to implement-or continue following-your bite protocols and safety rules. (Before you start Part 4, download the meeting guide and trainer's script that outlines exactly what to say in this meeting.) Start by welcoming your team to the final portion of this Team Meeting in a Box on pet bite safety. Today, you'll review some tips to promote safety and protect the people and pets in your practice.

5-minute activity: What's your role?

Break into small groups of five or less. Pass out the “What's your role?" cards and ask team members to read and review the tasks for each team member to help prevent bites in practice. You can use the checklist in one of two ways. First, you can use it as a review to reinforce your practice's safety protocols. Second, you can ask all team members to practice these steps for the next week. Everyone who can check off all of the tasks at the end of the week can be entered into a drawing with a small reward, such as a gift card to a local restaurant, shopping center or coffee shop.

4-minute activity: How to make a kitty burrito

Distribute the “How to make a kitty burrito” handout and walk through each step. You can supply a towel and stuffed animal to each team member and ask everyone to practice towel wraps. Once you've practiced towel wraps and reviewed the handout, take one minute to discuss how you might use kitty burritos-for nail trims, blood work and so on.

2-minute activity: Discuss your protocol if injuries occur

Note: Before the meeting, it's a good idea to complete a reporting protocol in case injuries occur. Take two minutes at this point in the meeting to review your on-the-job injury protocol and how to complete an injury incident report. Use the sample protocol for responding to on-the-job injuries to guide your discussion.

The safety of the pets and people at your practice are of paramount importance, and the training you've done over the last few weeks has reinforced your goal of safeguarding the health and wellbeing of the people who help your practice offer high-quality care to pets. Thank your team members for taking the time to discuss protocols and invite them to continue to share their ideas to improve safety in your practice in future team meetings.

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