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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

You Get Used To It

One of my earliest appointments today was a pair of puppies for routine booster vaccines.  The boy was sweet and playful but the girl was very shy and skittish.  I had barely begun my exam when she suddenly started freaking out, trying to bite me and urinating all over the floor.  I was trying to keep her out of her own urine and she managed to graze me with her teeth.  It's not the first time I've handled such things, so it didn't phase me much (though certainly frustrated me).  I covered my wounds well, went to the back to get an assistant and a muzzle, washed my slightly bleeding scrapes and then went back to finish the exam and vaccines.  After we were done the client seemed to notice the long scratches and bit of blood and asked me if the puppy had bit me.  I told her that it was nothing serious and happens almost every day.  I had scrapes and a small puncture as well as urine on my pants, and I was brushing it off as routine.

And the thing is, I wasn't lying.

There are many things you get used to in the veterinary profession.  It's a daily occurrence to get urine, feces, pus, or blood on us.  Pretty quickly you realize that it all washes off and you can't be grossed out by it.  Multiple times per day I have a pet that needs to be muzzled or is otherwise a bit aggressive, including some who need to be fully sedated before doing even the most simple service.  If you got bothered and scared by this, you couldn't last long in the field.  We see dying pets, stupid clients, difficult decisions, and numerous other things that your average pet owner would be upset by or become nauseous over.  You get used to it.

One of my other cases today was a small hot spot near a golden retriever's ear.  The owner was pretty worried about it but in my estimation it was actually pretty mild.  This was only a couple of inches across and was scabbing over.  I've seen them where it's the entire side of the face and is oozing blood, pus, and other unmentionable things.  I was able to explain to the client that we could easily treat the case and it wasn't as bad as the thought.  I might have been a little jaded, but I've gotten used to so many worse situations that I couldn't be worried about this.

Many people have asked me over the years how I deal with the things I see and do.  When I first started being around vets I would indeed get sick at the sight of certain things and actually did pass out a couple of times.  So what changed?  How did I learn to handle these sights, smells, and experiences?  I hate to say that there really isn't any magic trick.

I just got used to it.


  1. I hope you mentioned to the owner that her fear aggressive little sh*t of a puppy needed training?

    Sorry. Did that come out hateful? I am so sick of seeing aggressive dogs. We had a SIX pound chihuahua patient a couple of weeks ago that went after anyone who opened his cage. And I'm talking vicious lunging. This wasn't fear aggression, this was plain old aggression. And his owner coddled him and talked sweet to him. That was the first dog that I have actually WANTED to punt across the room just to see it bounce.

    Then I felt bad, because really - his owners allowed and even encourage that ridiculous behavior -and with an ounce of training, he might have been a decent little dog.

    Then again, maybe not.

  2. I work at a shelter where we are required to report the most minor of tooth scratches -- It doesn't matter if someone was playing with a puppy and it just grazed your hand before grabbing onto the toy, if there is "broken skin" they report it to the county and that dog/puppy is forced to go through a mandatory 10-day quarantine period. If it was a pit bull type dog they immediately get euthanized following the quarantine period because we can't place pitties with a "bite history," even if it was a TOOTH SCRATCH.

    All this said, I'm curious how the veterinary industry handles these things, since you admit to getting bit on a daily basis. Obviously you must just overlook the majority (as I do, honestly, as I refuse to make a fuss over a tooth scratch if I was initiating play). Are there ever cases where you DO report bites?

  3. Those are both great questions!

    Sleep-deprived: I'm very interested in behavioral therapy and I could tell that this was definitely a fear response and not full aggression. But either situation can be dangerous. And I absolutely DID talk extensively about group puppy classes, socialization, and gave her one of my handouts on how to socialize. I warned her that at this age if we don't correct the problem it will get worse. And I agree that baby-talking and coddling these dogs only makes it worse. So yes, she got a polite but firm "talking to".

    Karissa: Just to clarify, we don't get bit daily but it's not for lack of opportunities. I have pets every day that certainly try to bite, but most of the time we avoid the injury through a combination of skill, training, luck, and reflexes.

    Most of the time if it's a minor bite or scratch we'll ignore it since it's so frequent. If it's a severe bite or if the pet isn't current on rabies vaccination we definitely report it. Since cat bites are much more likely to get infected I will insist that my staff goes to the urgent care clinic for treatment if the tooth at all breaks the skin.

    Hope that answers the questions!


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