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The Dilemma: The bite

dvm360dvm360 December 2021
Volume 52

When a staff member receives a bite wound from a patient, this clinic assesses its existing safety procedures, plus determines how to approach and prevent similar future incidents.

Ekaterina / stock.adobe.com

Ekaterina / stock.adobe.com

It’s inevitable in the veterinary field: sooner or later you will likely get bitten. Lake Animal Hospital has always prided itself on prioritizing the health and well-being of staff members. Though the obvious concern for the last couple of years has been the pandemic, efforts to keep team members healthy also include diligent precautions instilled to avoid staff injuries while handling pets. When treating scores of animals that are stressed and in pain, it should be expected that some of these pets may lash out.

Recently, this is exactly what happened at the Lake Animal Hospital. A 3-year-old German shepherd named Prince who had been seen uneventfully several times before for routine physicals and vaccinations now presented with a limp in his left front leg. Veterinary technician, Janet, escorted Prince into the exam room and after taking a history from the client, the technician along with the client walked the dog on to the exam room lift table.

Janet then began to take Prince’s vitals, and a turn of events unfolded quickly. While attempting to take his rectal temperature, the dog suddenly turned and bit the technician on her left forearm. The owner immediately controlled the dog while the startled technician left the exam room for medical assistance and the clinic staff rendered first aid and arranged for the injured technician to be taken to a local urgent care.

The veterinarian and another technician returned to the exam room and informed the concerned pet owner of technician Janet’s status. Prince, with the owner’s permission, was carefully muzzled and the visit was completed. It was now necessary for the practice to assess the existing safety procedures in place, what went awry, plus how to prevent future incidents like this from occurring.

Lake Animal Hospital’s safety procedures clearly outline how to safely interact with apprehensive patients. They state that pet owners should always be asked if their pet may become “nervous” when handled by strangers, plus it is standard procedure to note in the medical record if the pet has the potential to be aggressive. Then an assessment of the dog’s demeanor is to be completed by the veterinarian and the technician once they enter the exam room. Staff members are always advised to err on the side of caution. Whenever there is an injury at the clinic, the injured staff member must be the priority, then any injury—no matter how small—should be completely reviewed to prevent future occurrences and analyze if any safety regulations were violated.

In this case it was determined that because the dog was presented with a painful injury, an assessment of pre-examination restraint should have been made. The dog’s initial demeanor and the lack of historical indicators of aggression led to this assessment not being performed. There was no blame attributed to technician Janet, and she was simply advised that such a situation is a cautionary tale as a normally gentle dog can become a threat when in pain. As veterinary professionals we know injuries of this nature are never the dog’s fault. In addition to observing the precautions that Lake Animal Hospital has in place to minimize staff injuries, it is important to never become complacent because the reward of assisting an animal in distress does come with some risk.

Dr Rosenberg’s response

When you work with animals month after month and year after year you get very comfortable around them. You learn to judge an animal’s character very accurately. What you can’t predict is the unknown. Pain, loud noises, and quick movements can quickly trigger aggressive behavior. Nobody’s perfect but if you follow the motto, “Be prepared,” both the patient and the caretaker will remain as safe as possible.

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