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8 Ways We Endanger Our Dogs (and Others) at the Vet’s Office

From talking on our cellphones to letting our dogs play, these actions put everyone at risk.

Marybeth Bittel  |  Jun 3rd 2016


With election season upon us, I’ve been hearing more than ever about “mindful etiquette” and “courteous behavior.” And if you really stop to consider, it’s worthwhile advice. I mean, life is incredibly hectic. Multitasking is the norm these days, and it’s easy to do something in haste without fully considering potential consequences.

For us pet parents, it’s worth pointing out that the same etiquette goals should hold true at the vet’s office. Let’s face it: Vet visits can add considerable stress to an already-challenging day. But it’s important to realize that certain seemingly harmless actions can spell real trouble for the pets and people we love.

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The built-in stress many pets associate with vet visits can trigger uncharacteristically skittish behavior. (Photo via Shutterstock)

I should mention that my younger, less-attentive self has engaged in a couple of these actions over the years. So in a sense, I’m raising my own hand for the benefit of others. But I’ve also watched some of this cringe-worthy conduct from across the room, anxiously anticipating the aftermath.

With that in mind, here are eight risky behaviors we may want to collectively reconsider:

1. Chatting away on a cell phone

Topping the list would have to be chatting away on a cell phone while attempting to simultaneously 1) consult with the on-duty tech, 2) pay a bill, and 3) “control” one or more unruly canines. Unfortunately, said canine(s) will often spend this time tangled in a leash, touching noses with potentially sick animals, and/or trying to make out with a stranger’s leg. In the unfamiliar surroundings of a pet-focused health facility, two ever-present threats are territoriality and communicability — so keeping a careful eye on our pets is crucial.

2. Using retractable leashes

The thin cord used on retractable leashes has caused documented cases of serious injury — including cuts requiring stitches, even finger and tail amputations. If that cord unspools suddenly, it can slice through skin or get wrapped around anyone in the near vicinity. If you drop the plastic handle, the loud clattering noise can cause already-edgy animals to bolt. In the vet’s office (and really, any situation) rethink retractables.

3. Not supervising kid-pet interactions

Bringing along your kiddos, without first instructing them on the proper way to approach an unfamiliar animal, can result in countless mishaps. Remember that even mild-mannered pets may snap or bite when they’re sick or hurting. Perhaps even more importantly, certain pet ailments like Bordetellosis can be passed to humans. So when it comes to kids and canines in the waiting area, enforcing a strict “hands off” rule may be your best bet.

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Kids and canines make great companions — and establishing specific conduct rules at the vet’s office helps safeguard everyone’s well-being. (Photo via Shutterstock)

4. Not supervising pet-pet interactions

Sure, dogs are social creatures. Just remember that when you let your pup sniff, nibble, or otherwise mess with my pup at the vet’s office, you have absolutely no way of knowing what kind of ailment brought us in today. Is it something your pet might catch? Often, not even the vet can be sure without further testing — so it’s much safer to keep your pooch close by your side.

5. Letting dogs play

Certainly, everyone at the vet’s office is an animal lover — but for various reasons, not everyone may be in the mood to socialize with your specific canine. So letting your large-breed (or even midsize) canine run amok while cheerfully hollering, “It’s fine! He’s friendly!” can annoy certain owners, terrify certain pet patients, and cause potential aggression or injury. For everyone’s safety, keep your canine on a sturdy, non-retractable leash.

6. Standing near the entrance/exit

Do you sometimes sit or stand with your dog near the main entrance door, when other seats are available? This may seem utterly harmless, but remember that canines are territorial by nature. So when other pet patients attempt to leave or arrive, the tense and unfamiliar setting may prompt canine “gatekeeper” behavior — even outright skirmishes. It’s safest to steer clear of the entrance area whenever possible.

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Even the sweetest of pets may exhibit tense or territorial behavior when dealing with the added stress of a vet visit. (Photo via Shutterstock)

7. Leaving the cat carrier at home

I’ve seen numerous cat owners insist upon transporting kitty in their arms, instead of an enclosed carrier. Regrettably, unfamiliar surroundings can often reduce the friendliest feline to a frantically hissing furball. Toss a couple of hounds or curious terriers into the mix, and this situation often escalates in deeply unfortunate ways. Ensure everyone’s well-being by using a latched carrier until you’ve safely reached the exam room.

8. Asking questions outside of the exam room

Naturally, responsible pet parents routinely ask thoughtful questions about veterinary treatment plans. The safest place to do this, however, is generally in the exam room. Many pet clinics and hospitals will send owners and their pets back to the (frequently crowded) waiting area while medications are dispensed. Launching into a long list of detailed questions when the vet appears means we’re not keeping undivided attention on our curious (and/or quivering) canine companions. Unsupervised intervals can lead to myriad mishaps, such as those noted above.

Are there specific guidelines you follow to help keep everyone safe and secure when you take your pet to the vet? Share your personal tips and insights below!