I recently had to use my stern voice. You know the one. It started with a “ma’am” because I feel like that sets the tone. Then I got my hand movements involved. A little bit of waving and motioning helped for maybe five seconds then I had to say a stern “ma’am” again. In the end the owner still didn’t listen and her own cat attacked her. There is the saying, don’t tell me how to do my job, and I truly believe more owners should understand that. There are several situations that endanger both the owners and our staff daily because people do not listen or care to listen to our expertise.  Here are a few situations that I implore all owners to listen to the veterinary staff and trust in our knowledge.

1. Unless you are trained in animal restraint, please do not insist on restraining your own dog or cat.

Many owners are adamant about restraining their own animal but this creates a higher risk of injury to both the owner and to the staff. Many times I’ve had owners hold their dogs head as I’m listening to the heart and as soon as I take my stethoscope off the chest they let go. The dog usually turns right towards my face and if I’m not quick enough I could get attacked. I understand you want to comfort your pet but letting our trained staff restrain takes the stress off of you and allows us to be safe.  

2. If your dog growls or lunges do not tell us that it won’t bite or that it doesn’t need a muzzle.

We have heard it all. They “like to talk” or “they have never bit anyone.”  But all it takes is a scared dog and one wrong move to turn into a terrible situation. When your dog is growling or lunging they are telling us they are scared and willing to defend themselves. A muzzle isn’t a bad thing. This creates a safe barrier to allow us to do our jobs properly and do a full exam. We know it hurts to see your pet wearing this type of restraint but remember how much more we can accomplish by using it.

3. If your cat is hissing and swatting do not try to pet it to calm it down. 

When a cat is out of their normal environment they tend to get frustrated and aggressive. They will take that aggression out on anyone, even you, their loyal lovely owner. Doctors and staff usually have protocols they use to keep everyone safe like using towels and cat muzzles if needed. Placing your hand into the mix creates uncertainty and unsafe practices. Please understand your pet won’t stop attacking because they see you and we really don’t want to see you have to go to the hospital because of your own cat biting you.

4. If your dog is protective of you please let us take them into the treatment area.

I know it’s the dreaded “take them to the back” statement. Everyone fears from many horror stories, which somehow get circulated, that we are going to abuse your pet when you aren’t around. This statement is unfortunately very wrong and couldn’t be farther from the truth. Many times the treatment room is a larger space, which makes dogs feel less crowded. We are also able to gather more help in restraining your pet and can get a better picture of what may be going on. If your pet is so worked up over trying to protect you we won’t be able to do right by them when attempting to treat the medical problem.

5. Don’t be afraid of sedation.

I’ve had owners refuse sedation to explore wounds on their pets because they were afraid of the side effects. I’ve had owners refuse sedation for aggressive pets that get more worked up when handled. In both of these situations, the pets received sub-par care because proper protocols were not allowed to transpire. The patient with the wound came back five days later with purulent debris pouring from the skin staples (the only thing they would let me do awake) and the aggressive pet that couldn’t be touched came in septic because it had ingested foreign material that perforated its intestines. If I had been allowed to do my job neither one of those situations would have happened. Sedation is a good thing and alleviates a lot of anxiety and aggression. Without it we are only doing half of our jobs for these difficult pets.

We understand that you love your pets but when that hinders us from doing our jobs it can create a mess. We don’t want to be rude but sometimes backing off makes the situation better. Let us do our jobs and we can all get along.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.

Nicole Palumbo, DVM


Dr. Nicole Palumbo is a 2012 graduate from the University of Illinois. She is originally from the south side of Chicago but chose to move to Northwest Pennsylvania for her first job out of veterinary school. She works with small animals, exotics and also volunteers her time at the local wildlife rescue, typically performing surgeries and exams on the many raptors that are admitted to the facility. Recently she has taken a job with an emergency/general practice closer to Pittsburgh. With time she hopes to focus more time on wildlife medicine and also obtain specialization in feline medicine.