Understanding the vital role of consent in veterinary practice to empower and respect the autonomy of dogs and cats in their healthcare journey
Content sponsored by CareCredit and Pets Best
At the 2023 AVMA Convention in Denver, Colorado, Taylor Rezvani, PhD, and Steve Dale, CABC, explored the crucial role of consent in veterinary care for both canines and felines. Delving into the complex relationship between animal welfare and autonomy, they explored how seeking consent from patients can improve the veterinary experience and strengthen the human-animal bond.1-2
Rezvani explained the significance of requesting consent from dogs during veterinary procedures. By offering dogs choices and empowering them to communicate their decisions, Taylor emphasized that consent is not just about obedience but about respecting the autonomy of our canine companions. Understanding and acknowledging various forms of consent, whether expressed or implied, enhances communication with animals and fosters a positive experience in the veterinary setting.
Upon a dog's arrival at the veterinary hospital, establishing reciprocal interest becomes the initial step, Rezvani said. This ensures that any physical touch or care is initiated with the dog's agreement. Respecting boundaries is key—avoiding actions without explicit consent, such as utilizing aversives or coercive measures, is vital to maintaining a strong human-animal bond and promoting overall well-being.
She added that consent must always be freely and clearly communicated without any form of coercion. It is crucial to understand that consent can be withdrawn at any time, and this decision should be respected and acknowledged. Utilizing threats or pressure to make a dog comply with a specific action is a form of coercion that should be strictly avoided. Instead, offering meaningful alternatives and positive reinforcement can foster a cooperative and trust-based relationship with the dog.
Rezvani noted that it is essential to seek renewed consent during veterinary procedures, especially if there are changes in the type or degree of interaction. Consent should be requested each time a new task is introduced, regardless of prior consent, as the dog's comfort level may differ based on various factors, such as the environment and their emotional state. By paying attention to the contextual factors involved, such as the people present, the location, previous experiences, and potential stressors, clinicians can better gauge the dog's willingness to provide consent. Additionally, Rezvani explained, considering the presence of novelty and understanding the dog's threshold for comfort are crucial in promoting a positive consent experience.
To encourage positive consent responses, positive reinforcement techniques should be employed, strengthening the dog's association with consent and choice, Rezvani said. Conversely, if consent is not wholeheartedly offered, it is imperative to respect the decision and refrain from engaging in any interactions. Breaking tasks into smaller, manageable parts can facilitate subsequent consent requests and enhance the overall consent experience for the dog.
Ultimately, integrating consent into veterinary practice represents a transformative approach, wherein dogs are empowered participants in their healthcare journey. Through respecting their autonomy and ensuring their comfort, we can build a strong foundation for a trusting and harmonious bond between dogs, their human caregivers, and veterinary professionals, Rezvani said.
Shifting the focus to cats, Dale addressed the importance of considering consent in feline veterinary care. Recognizing that cats are control-oriented creatures, Dale emphasized that offering cats the ability to make choices can significantly impact their welfare and reduce stress during veterinary visits.
Dale underscored the value of understanding feline communication cues, which serve as indicators of consent. By paying attention to a cat's body language and behavior, pet parents can recognize when their feline companions are comfortable and open to interaction. Implementing positive reinforcement training techniques, similar to those used with dogs, allows cats to express their consent and make choices regarding veterinary procedures.
Allow the cat to initiate contact, like rubbing up against you or offering a "kitty handshake." Observing a slow blink, lying down (not to be confused with learned helplessness), or hearing purring can also indicate the cat's comfort. Consent begins when the cat indicates acceptance by saying, "It’s okay to pet me.” To minimize fear and anxiety during veterinary procedures, implement the "touch gradient" approach. This involves maintaining continuous hands-on contact throughout the procedure and gradually acclimating the cat to increasing touch intensity while monitoring their acceptance and comfort levels. When cats feel empowered and in control during veterinary visits, they are more likely to cooperate, leading to improved physical safety and reduced fear or anxiety.
Rezvani and Dale shed light on the critical importance of seeking consent from both dogs and cats in veterinary practice. Through offering choices, respecting boundaries, and understanding their communication cues, veterinary professionals can empower our animal companions and build trust with them. By integrating consent into the approach, you create a more positive experience for patients, strengthening the human-animal bond, and fostering overall well-being. Ultimately, recognizing and valuing the autonomy of our canine and feline friends can elevate the level of care provided, leading to happier owners who feel their pets are cared for properly.