The importance of finding the right vet

The importance of having a good vet can not be underestimated, you could be forgiven for assuming that all veterinarians are someone with significant education and a supposed affinity and compassion for animals, this would also include good animal handling skills. Unfortunately there are an alarmingly high number out there that fail to uphold the standard.

Recently two of my clients have experienced poor handling when at the vet. One of them, a 6 month old mini schnauzer has resulted in a severe aggression problem towards humans, the puppy had been taken to an emergency vet due to an insect bite on her foreleg, frightened and in pain the dog was manhandled to the point of aggressive reaction, causing a generalised fear of being handled, the poor dog now lashes out without hesitation which can have very serious ramifications. I am appalled at this shocking negligence and would like to make everyone aware of the list of difficulties that the owners may have to deal with as a result.

First is the stress placed on the owners worrying about the welfare of their puppy and incidences that may occur in the future, worrying about whether the dog will hurt a grandchild or bite a stranger.

Then there are potential costs involved if the dog does indeed bite someone, ranging from covering medical expenses right up to dealing with litigation should the victim react so. The costs don’t stop there, these owners have had to contact a behaviourist (yours truly) to resolve the problem, which will require weeks and weeks of ongoing coaching. Had they not considered behavioural modification in my opinion it’s likely the dog would have been put to sleep at some stage over the following years.

The second incidence of poor handling did not carry such an ominous aftermath, but it did carry an unnecessary cost, a lovely social rottweiler pup also 6 months of age went in to the vet due to an eye injury, she was so excitable that the vet and vet nurses couldn’t control her in order to be examined so she “required” sedation and then of course half a days observation to monitor her waking up from anaesthetic. Not only is it expensive but sedation itself can in some cases have a negative impact on a dogs confidence and should only be performed when absolutely necessary, not simply when the dog is exitable.

Yet another client of mine had a terrible ordeal at the vet with her Border Collie puppy, at 12 weeks of age while in for her standard vaccinations the vet failed to restrain her appropriately and not one but two vaccination needles where snapped off in her skin, how this happens to a puppy this young is almost beyond me. The result? Severe aggression directed at all humans outside the immediate family requiring years of ongoing behavioural support. Yes there are other factors that contribute to the development of behavioural issues, but in these cases where I intimately know the dog, the vets mistakes where the precedent.

Yes some dogs that go into the clinic are difficult to handle, but this is all the more reason to ensure education and professionalism in those whom we should be able to trust with our pets, five minutes of careful handling making a positive association can be the difference between an aversive vet experience and a favourable outcome. If the vet is too busy to take this time tell them to get their mind off their bank account and find another vet. Vote with your feet and don’t forget to leave a review of your experience on their social media page. They need to be made accountable and the power lies with you, the pet owner.

I often get numerous reports of clients being told that their dog is developing some health concern or another and if left alone could become quite serious, this often is followed by recommendation of an expensive preventative procedure. I urge anyone reading this, if it doesn’t feel right, get a second opinion.

Prevent vet sensitivity with handling training, I urge all my puppy clients to get their dogs used to being handled and touched in a way that is different to being cuddled and petted, grab the dogs paws, lightly squeeze the toes, hold the tail, stick your fingers in their ears and mouth, hold each eye open and hold their heal still in your hands. Make it a positive experience by associating the exercise with treats or do it before meal time. Encourage other people to do this as well and it will go a long way to getting you dog ready for examination. Obedience training aiming towards a reliable down or even roll onto your side command can be extremely helpful too. Something else to try is to go down to your vet to visit 3-4 times before you actually need to have anything done, so the dog can habituate and relax in the environment. Lastly if your dog has had a bad experience at your vet, don’t go back, changing to another vet is the fastest way to start afresh and give your dog the best chance to move on, making it less likely to hold onto anxiety. The reason for this is dogs make incredibly strong associations with particular locations, they remember where good things happen and they remember where bad things happen, so going somewhere else can definitely help to break that cycle.

I am very lucky to have a fantastic vet in Dr Peter Gleeson at the Alphington Veterinary Clinic has fantastic handling skills, is calm and gentle, and knows the importance of making positive associations in the clinic environment. To say his prices for consults and medication are reasonable is an understatement, in fact though his service he has inadvertently opened my eyes to the fact that whether it be through greed or a lack of knowledge, other vets often recommend and carry out procedures that are unnecessary and costly right away rather than trying a less expensive and less invasive option first, (kind of like a dodgy mechanic). As a result he has saved myself and many of my clients huge amounts of money. An ethical vet can be hard to find, but when you do never let them go, I only hope Peter doesn’t retire anytime soon.