When They Bite the Hand that Feeds Them

I’ve seen some pretty heinous pet bite incidents in the 20+ years I’ve been in the vet biz. 

Do you ever wonder why the vet doesn’t let you hold your pet in the exam room? Do you confidently  proclaim “he/she would never bite me”?  More often than you’d like to think, you could be very wrong.  Painfully, expensively (probably not a word, but it suits my needs right now), wrong. 

If your pet is so inclined, and nervous, and fearful, he will not hesitate to bite the crap out of you. 

I used to bite my orthodontist all the time.  I’m pretty civilized, even when I was a kid, but something about him cranking down on my teeth made me bite him.  It was just my instinctive response to the pain in my mouth.

Dogs and cats don’t think straight when they’re scared.  That whole “fight or flight” thing kicks in and sometimes they fight and people (including owners) get hurt in the process.  I don’t care how much he/she loves you and how sweet he is at home.  Ultimately, they are animals and that instinct could kick in at any time under duress.  I’ve seen it a hundred times.

I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had bleeding all over the exam room.  This causes a stir, because we’re not trained or equipped to handle human blood.  Animal blood, no problem, really can’t catch anything from them.  Human blood:  immediately we start worrying…AIDS, hepatitis, etc.  What do we clean it with?  

I once had a cat get its claw stuck in a little old ladies hand, in the vein.  Literally we’d try to pull the cat away but  its claw was pulling up her skin and there was blood shooting all over the place. 

In this case, she was a sweet little old lady so we were fairly sure she was blood borne disease free…but how can you tell?  What do we do…ask her?  “Excuse me ma’am, now that you’ve bled all over our clinic, is there anything we need to know about?” 

Sad part is, she really insisted on holding her cat.  I copped out on arguing with her, and look what happened. 

I had another “the dog will never bite me” client get bitten in the face while lifting his dog out of the car.  He (the client not the dog) was diabetic and on blood thinners: again with all the bleeding.  Had to call 911 for that one. 

I heard a story of a client who got her lip bitten off while kissing her partially sedated Rottweiler.  She bled all over the place too, and the technician who was bled on subsequently developed Hepatitis.  She’s not sure she got it from that client, but she’s suspicious.

We in the business are trained to recognize signs that the pet could bite.  You are not.  If we want to muzzle your pet, it’s not for fun or because we don’t like your pet.   Please don’t take it personally. 

Sometimes I muzzle dogs preemptively based on their breed.   Guess it’s sort of doggie racial profiling.  Breeds I’m extra careful with include:  German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Chows, Lhasa Apsos, Chihuahuas, and any dog who gives me that “look” that generally shows the whites of their eyes and says “I’m scared– really, really scared”. 

Also, for some strange reason, pets named Gizmo, Angel, and Taz often bite.  Not sure what that’s all about.  We might do a little subliminal profiling in these cases.  Sorry. 

On a side note:  I’ve seen more people maimed (as in lips/noses bitten off) by Lhasa Apsos than any other breed.  Strange eh?  I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that in a previous blog, but it’s an interesting fact.  I always mention it when people start in on Pit Bulls.  (The Pits that I see generally are very nice.  The ones that go out and kill people are generally not the ones who recieve regular veterinary care).

I love it when we get new clients (dripping sarcasm here) who hope that maybe THIS will be the vet the pet won’t try to bite.  They don’t tell us that the pet has needed a muzzle in the past.   When we start the exam and the pet growls or snaps, THEN the clients says sheepishly, oh, yah, the other vet had to muzzle/sedate him. 

Guys, you’re taking chances with our fingers and faces here.  We really appreciate warnings. 

Things can get ugly in a whole ‘nother way.  State law says that any time an animal who could potentially be carrying rabies (which technically is any mammal) scratches or bites a human, it has to be reported to Animal Control. 

If the pet is current on Rabies vaccine, then generally, a bite report is filed, and the pet has to be home quarantined for 10 days. 

If the pet is overdue for Rabies, which is often the case at the vet, since that’s why they’re there getting their shots, the pet has to be either quarantined at the vet or the animal shelter (at variable costs to the owner) or euthanized and sent off for Rabies testing. 

How awkward is that?  Fluffy comes in because he’s sick, then someone gets bitten, then this whole legal rigmarole gets going.  The worst, worst case scenario is if Fluffy subsequently dies because of what was making him sick.   Then we HAVE to send the remains off for Rabies testing and there is nothing to bury or cremate.  That’s really awkward. 

Not only do you have to deal with the quarantine issues, you may also have to pay a big fat fine and go to court.  Oh and we recently had a client  tell us that not only did she pay a fine for the biting dog, but animal control showed up at her house, lights blazing to check out the vaccination status of her other dogs.  Unfortunately they weren’t current either and she had to pay fines for them too. 

So I guess the moral of the story is:  keep your Rabies vaccines current (your pets, not yours, although I have to be vaccinated for Rabies…just in case), don’t be offended if we won’t let you hold your pet or want to muzzle it, and if you know your pet bites when scared, it’s ok to give us a heads up. 

Safety first, ya know?

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4 thoughts on “When They Bite the Hand that Feeds Them

  1. I met a “country” vet who had no idea what to look or listen for as a signal that my dog Hope was dangerously close to biting. I had to warn him 3 times before he took precautions. He told me they don’t teach them much about what to look for in school. He probably should have done some self study on that!

  2. Great posts (I’m just catching up on the last 2 months). Wanted to thank those clients who actually warn us techs that “Fido” may be a bit nippy. We know your dog/cat isn’t mean or bad. I would absolutely bite anyone who gives me vaccinations without warning, shines blinding,bright lights into my eyes and sticks their fingers into my you-know-what to express….well, you get the idea.

    1. This is from Amy, one of our wonderful techs who, unfortunately has been on the recieving end of more than her share of pet teeth…

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