Dog bite prevention: Bite into these tips


Even the nicest-looking dogs can bite. Here's how to keep everyone at your practice safe-including your patients.

If a dog has a mouth, it can bite—no exceptions, says Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, PhD, DABVP, of VCA Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver.

"I love dogs, but they aren't little people; they're animals," Dr. Fitzgerald says. "And every breed of dog can bite." Here are four ways to prevent dog bites at your practice, according to the expert.

1. Muzzle everything. Unfortunately, Dr. Fitzgerald had to learn about dog bite prevention the hard way—he's been bitten twice. He contracted meningitis from one of the bites and almost lost a finger. Now he has a rule with no exceptions: muzzle every canine patient. "I wish I could look at a dog and say, 'That dog does not need a muzzle,' but you can never tell what a dog's going to do," Dr. Fitzgerald says.

Many people think he's crazy, but the joke is on them. It only takes a second to muzzle a dog—the same amount of time it takes to get bitten, Dr. Fitzgerald says.

2. Explain yourself. Make sure you talk your clients through the muzzling process. Dr. Fitzgerald suggests saying something like, "Max isn't mean, he's just scared. I want to make sure he's safe and I'm safe." Or "Malcolm is really scared. I need your help to get the muzzle on him." He encourages his clients to muzzle their own pets to take away some the fear factor.

Don't forget to tell your clients you can do a better exam when you don't have to worry about getting bit—just be sensitive. "It's like their kid is acting up at the dentist. They're embarrassed," Dr. Fitzgerald says. But you can explain there's no need for them to feel that way.

3. Put safety first. While it's OK to let your clients muzzle their own pets, don't ever let them hold down their pets while you do the examination. "We are professionals. We need ensure the safety of our clients, our patients, our staff, and ourselves," Dr. Fitzgerald says. He even uses mild sedatives—but only when absolutely necessary. "Why wrestle some big knuckledheaded dog when you can use a sedative?" Dr. Fitzgerald says.

4. Educate the public. Preventing dog bites at your practice is a great start, but you can also work toward preventing dog bites in your community. "Veterinarians need to do a better job of making children aware and educating the public about dog bites," Dr. Fitzgerald says. "Kids think every dog is nice like Buttercup at their house." Tell your clients' children never to pet a dog they don't know and if they ever do get bitten to report it. "I'm not saying you need to get hysterical, just be cool—be safe," Dr. Fitzgerald says.

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