Blog: Pet bites: Dont be a hero in your veterinary practice

October 2, 2014

What you need to know to take the bite out of pet bites at your veterinary practice.

Safety is a word that gets thrown around veterinary hospitals regularly, but it may never get the full attention that it deserves. While a certain amount of danger is inherent to our industry, it's also imperative to take every possible precaution to reduce the possibility of injury to our team members-and to avoid costly insurance increases.

Our practice has a multi-tiered approach to safety that includes basic training at the time of hire, specific animal restraint training, situational training and a heavy-handed expectation that we stop, take a look at a situation and consult a supervisor whenever something even smells slightly dangerous. It isn't always enough.

The greatest dangers are the ones we didn't consider-which means that every safety incident adds to the catalogue of things we need to be aware of. This requires ongoing safety training to ensure all team members benefit from the knowledge we gained in hindsight. (See our Safety Policy, Injury Incident Report and Sample Protocol for Responding to On-the-job Injuries.)

I investigate every safety incident that occurs in our practice, and 99 percent could have been prevented. Could have been. It's easy to say, but what does it really take to prevent those situations? It takes more than words and more than actions and usually relies on a level of understanding about the consequences of an unsafe approach.

Other situations are just plain avoidable. Several years ago, we dropped the ball in so many ways you'd think we were learning to juggle.

Mistake No. 1: We placed a whelping Rottweiler in an exam room with the three pups that had been born so far and allowed the pet owner to leave.

Mistake No. 2: A seasoned technician delegated handling of the case to an inexperienced assistant.

Mistake No. 3: The supervising technician directed the assistant to remove the pups from the mother.

For her troubles, the assistant received a very large and painful bite on the forearm. As is our policy, we offered to have her seem medical treatment at once, and she visited our local ER. They insisted on closing the wounds and said our employee didn't need antibiotics. Two days later, she began a course of daily IV injections designed to reverse complications associated with their mismanagement of the case.

Our practice suffered a penalty fee increase because of our changed experience rating, and over the course of three years, the incident increased our Worker's Compensation premium payment a total of $12,000. The fear of losing part of one's face should be enough to instill a diligent approach to safety, the very least an employee can do is show some respect for a claim that size.

Time and time again, new employees-and some veteran employees-can't seem to disengage the “hero” gene that makes them instinctively want to tame the aggressive dog, hold onto the wild cat or generally just save the day. It's a horrible idea, no matter how it seems at the time. You must follow safety protocols step by step, and team members must learn at the exact moment when the “hero” gene kicks in, it's really time to let go, take step back-and take a deep breath-and reassess. Some situations can't be managed. There, I've said it. Some situations can't be managed.

We mustn't be afraid to tell an owner that we just couldn't achieve whatever it was we wanted to because of their cat's or dog's personality. It will never be worth risking permanent injury to ourselves- or worth terrorizing a patient.

Kyle Palmer, CVT, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a practice manager at Silver Creek Animal Clinic in Silverton, Ore. Please send your questions or comments to