Pets showing aggression at a vet’s office

Dogs or cats visiting a veterinary hospital are often aware before entering the reception area that something different is about to happen. They may have been transported, for the first time, in a carrier or car and sensed anxiety in their owner. The reception area is filled with the scents of unfamiliar pets, people and disinfectants. Strange sounds, including those made by other frightened or ill pets, increase their anxiety.

They are then taken into an examination room to be handled by a stranger who may cause them discomfort. Hospitalization for a surgical procedure or medical treatment may follow. It is unusual when fear is not expressed by a pet after even a single visit.

Some pets become so fearful at the vet’s office that they risk injuring themselves and anyone attempting to handle them. Fear out of proportion to the actual danger present is classified as a phobia. A fearful response at the vet’s is probably the most common phobia in companion animals.

A pet may become aggressive at the vet’s office because of fear and inability to escape. Some dogs are additionally motivated by defensive‚aggression aimed at protecting their owners in an apparently menacing situation.

A dominant dog may be more strongly inclined to defend its owner. Veterinarians sometimes find it helpful to separate a dog from its owner, so as to reduce aggression during a veterinary visit. This does not eliminate the dog’s fear but often makes the veterinarian’s examination considerably easier. Isolating a dog from its owner often eases its aggressiveness. This calming effect on the dog may also reflect the additional tension caused by its concerned owners.

In some cases it may be necessary to tranquilize your pet. In our office with very aggressive cats, we may actually administer, with the use of a mask, a light anesthetic called Isoflurone and perform the necessary diagnostics. This anesthetic is very safe. It has the benefit of quick induction and recovery.

Placing a muzzle on an aggressive dog frequently has a calming effect, as well as ensuring everyone’s safety. It is not cruel to muzzle a dog for brief periods.

If you are asked to separate yourself from, or place a muzzle on your agitated dog, have confidence in your veterinarian’s judgment and concern for your dog’s best interest.

I would like to acknowledge the work this article is taken from : Instructions for Veterinary Clients: Canine and Feline Behavior Problems, Second edition, Mosby, 1997, pp37-40 by:

Dr. Stefanie Schwartz, DVM,MSc,DACVB
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
Director of Behavior Services, VCA South Shore Animal Hospital
Clin.Asst.Prof., Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine
National Consultant, Antech Laboratories


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