Vet Hospital Etiquette

A short leash goes a long way at the vet’s office

Unlike most dentists’ or doctors’ offices, veterinary clinic waiting rooms can be loud, chaotic and potentially dangerous places to be. A few simple rules could make them a lot safer and saner.

Firstly, the vet’s office is not the indoor equivalent of the dog park. It is not the place for pets to play and socialize. There are probably sick animals in the room who may be irritable, weak or contagious. Clinic staff will put infectious animals into exam rooms quickly, but we don’t always know right away to do so.

So, every dog should be leashed at the vet’s office, including obedience champions, little cute-as-a-button fluffballs, and that bouncy lab pup who wants to know everybody. For their own protection, puppies that have not been fully vaccinated should be carried or crated if at all possible.

Leashes deserve a little more attention. There are several long discussions by vets online about the evils of the retractable leash. These are plastic-handled contraptions containing coils of thin cord often 20 feet in length or longer. People have lost fingers when the cord gets wrapped around them. People have lost dogs when they darted out into traffic. If you know how to keep these leashes short so you can grab your pet’s collar if needed, you are to be congratulated. You cannot safely or quickly reel in a dog by grabbing onto the cord. With that in mind, traditional leashes are best in many environments.

You’re sitting patiently with your dog well-controlled on a good leash, but he’s nervous and really needs to pee, so he does. Don’t leap up and try to drag him out the door. Clinic floors have had far worse on them, but it is easier to clean up if it’s all in one spot, not splashed all over in the rush to get outside. Give dogs the opportunity to relieve themselves right before coming into the clinic. Just the site of a veterinary hospital can bring on urges that weren’t apparently there at home.

Dogs that are known to be aggressive should either be muzzled in the waiting room or left, weather-permitting, in the car for the short time it should take to check in at the desk. Muzzles can also be helpful for nervous barkers – a trick I learned from several thoughtful clients over the years. It is much-appreciated by cat owners sharing the waiting room.

Cats belong in carriers with few exceptions. We have seen too many people shredded by frightened kitties and too many cats lost from the parking lot when this rule is broken. There are ways to acclimate cats to carriers, mainly by transforming them into cozy, treat-laden dens that are left out all the time at home. If the big scary box only emerges before a big scary car ride to the place with barking dogs and sharp needles, it’s going to be tough getting kitty inside. Once in there, she may hurt herself in panic.

Lovely, the cats are in carriers expecting the worst on one side of the room and the dogs are sitting quietly with empty bladders on the other. In walks someone with a snake on their shoulders and the screaming starts. I’m so glad we only deal with dogs and cats. Someone else can tackle reptile etiquette.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Trenton/Quinte West, Ontario
July 2013