Why team members’ behavior matters

dvm360dvm360 August 2022
Volume 53
Issue 8
Pages: 24

When it comes to managing patients who are anxious, a calm and understanding demeanor is helpful

AnnaStills / stock.adobe.com

AnnaStills / stock.adobe.com

The behavior of team members matters in all aspects of a clinic. The overall feel or energy of a clinic can affect a patient as much as the energy of the person helping them. If we relate this to our own experiences, we might gain a better perspective of how someone’s behavior affects another person.

Think about a time when someone was kind to you, whether they opened the door for you or thanked you for something simple—it makes your day, right? On the flip side, think about a time when someone was rude to you. When this happens, it can potentially ruin your day. This applies as much to animals as it does humans.

Understanding patients

Animals are empaths; research has demonstrated that many species of animals can understand and share emotions.1 Of course, this intensifies with the bond of the human in question. However, this relates to how animals can feed off the emotions of those around them and those handling them. If this fact is true, then we can assume that one’s behavior will matter when approaching or touching a pet.

These amazing animals are not only empaths but they also emote their feelings, and we must be in tune with them enough to see what they are showing. It is important to be able to read an animal’s signals so we can appreciate what they are feeling. Reading their feelings is a skill that comes with exposure, observation, and intuition.

There are occasions when it is not clear-cut or obvious, but veterinary professionals can still respect what patients are going through. In this scenario, we are speaking about patients who are anxious. An anxious pet needs calm and understanding behaviors from those caring for the patient.

A Fear Free resource

The Fear Free program is highly informative and beneficial to practices. There are several tracks in the program that are designed to educate and inspire many veterinary industry professionals—from relief veterinarians to groomers—through its mission to reduce fear, anxiety, and stress in patients.

Fear Free provides training tools and learning aids to ensure success for everyone involved in interacting with an anxious pet. Beneficial resources include body language guides that help identify signals in the face, eyes, mouth, tail, ears, and posture of dogs and cats. These signals can show whether a companion animal is relaxed or stressed. For example, stressed dogs and cats may exhibit dilated pupils or a tucked tail.2

Acting with purpose

Once an anxiety or fear response is identified, there are behaviors that can be implemented—and to be mindful of—while handling the pet. These behaviors can result in a great interaction.

  1. Be confident. Those who fear or have their own anxiety about a patient should not restrain or be exposed to that patient. Remember animals are empaths; if you’re anxious when handling cats, then do not handle an anxious cat.
  2. Be observant. Be mindful of the pet and how they are feeling. Each pet has their signals, even if they may be hard to read. Being observant can help to be prepared and avoid escalation.
  3. Be calm. Anxious pets need calm energy around them. Excited or high-pitched voices and fast or jerky movements are not appropriate.
  4. Be patient. Moving too quickly or aggressively may trigger a fight or flight response. If these appointments take a few minutes longer than usual, so be it. The extra time is worth it.
  5. Be gentle. This is critical when it comes to anxiety. The tighter a pet is gripped, the more there is for them to fear. Start with “less is more,” and the response can be amazing.
  6. Be understanding. Put yourself in the patient’s frame of mind and try to figure out why they would be anxious.

These are simple behaviors that can help with an anxious pet visit, and there are so many more things that can and will help. The Fear Free program goes in depth when it comes to the best ways to handle and treat these patients. There is so much knowledge to pass on to the owner, as well, that will help pets not be so anxious.


In dog training, there is an expression that applies the concept of how our behavior affects the pets we train: The dog feels your energy down the leash. This notion applies to the handling of patients who are anxious, as well. The behavior or energy you emote will directly affect the behavior and feelings of the patient being treated.

Now when reviewing an anxious pet visit, the final interaction is to be positive. If an appointment ends on a positive note, the next appointment will likely start on a healthier footing. Remember that positivity starts and ends with the energy of those in the clinic, not just those who handle the patient.

Sabrina Beck, CVT, CVBL is a practice manager in Orlando, Florida for Avalon Family Vet, part of the Family Vet Group.


  1. Do animals have feelings? Examining empathy in animals. University of West Alabama. April 3, 2019. Accessed July 29, 2022. https://online.uwa.edu/ news/empathy-in-animals/#:~:text=Scientific%20research%20backs%20 the%20idea,often%20associated%20primarily%20with%20humans.
  2. Body language and signs of FAS in dogs & cats. Fear Free. Accessed July 29, 2022. https://fearfreepets.com/body_language_and_signs_of_fas_ in_dogs_and_cats/
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