To most people, it would seem logical that if one’s dog or cat has aggressive or fear biting tendencies, that one would warn the veterinarian, a complete stranger performing sometimes uncomfortable clinical tasks on a patient, that he/she should be careful. Yet, at least a few times a week, I find myself finding out that a new patient is aggressive the hard way, getting bitten, scratched, lunged at, or all of the above. And when any of the above happens, many of these owners clearly has previous knowledge of their animals’ aggression, as evidenced by their statements immediately following the episode, such as, “Oh yeah, he’s always nasty to vets.”
In response to this, I always say, “In the future, please warn us about a pet’s potential for aggression, or people can get badly hurt.” Staying politically correct like this requires a great deal of restraint on my part, as I often am seething with anger inside, especially following an exceptionally dangerous experience. Under these circumstances, I sometimes have the impulse to just throw the pet owner out of my office and ban him/her from the clinic, or to at least say, “How about a warning, you moron!” Thankfully, better tact typically prevails.
I do not know why some pet owners think that they do not need to warn veterinarians, assistants, and veterinary technicians about a pet’s aggressive tendencies. I have speculated that some naively think that our veterinary training has endowed us with Dog Whisperer like abilities to make animals readily cooperate. In some cases, it has seemed that some pet owners are in denial that their pet has the potential to inflict harm on people. In a rare few instances, I even experience owners that find it amusing or cute that their animals have attacked and that failed to warn us (under these circumstances, all political correctness goes out the window).
To pet owners, please let me be clear that we do not possess a divine ability to make your pets like us. In fact, that opposite is true. When your pets see us, we smell like many other animals unfamiliar to your pet, that we have handled throughout the day. We are strangers to your pet, instilling an automatic sense of trepidation in fearful animals, but made worse by the fact that we do scary things to patients, like shine bright lights in their eyes, palpate abdomens, clean ears, trim nails, administer injections, and take temperatures.
If you have seen your pet act aggressively and do not warn us out of denial or wishful thinking that your aggressive pet may do better with a new vet, understand that your denial or wish that your pet may come around this time, can get people seriously injured. For those of you that thinks it is amusing or cute to see your vet attacked by your aggressive pet, talk to my first employer who had her lower lip bitten off by a rottweiler and required skin grafting and 4 surgeries to offer some semblance of cosmetic integrity. Ask her how cute her experience was!