Does your veterinary clinic routinely take your pets to the back for treatment, out of your sight? Why do vets take your pet to the back? Years ago I worked as a vet tech and we didn’t routinely “take pets to the back” for treatment. Emergency visits, or pets not easily handled, were the exceptions. But more often than not, dogs and cats had their temperatures taken, vaccines administered, routine blood and stool samples procured, all while in the presence of the owners.
Will Vet Visits Return to Normal?
Today, we call ourselves “pet parents” and when visiting the vet, and our fur-kid may be whisked away out of sight for treatment. My own veterinarian does this with my animals, and I have no problem with the practice. During the past year or so, vet visits due to COVID-19 meant most pets were collected by clinic staff at the car and escorted inside.
Now with many restrictions lifted, we anticipate a return to routine (or some semblance thereof). The trend to take pets to the back appears to be a uniquely American veterinary habit. Has your veterinarian has always done it that way? Maybe it’s time to ask them to explore other options. If you’d rather stay with your cat or dog, consider the reasons why your vet may prefer to treat in the back.
WHY VETS TAKE PETS TO THE BACK
Veterinarians say… PETS ARE CALMER
Many veterinarians believe pets act calmer without the owner present. In some instances, this is true. Yowling cats fall silent, and struggling pups urinate submissively and go limp. Others argue, however, that certain pets seem calm only because they’ve shut down out of fear. Motionless doesn’t equal fear-free. At the same time, very protective or sensitive dogs may become more upset by their owner’s emotional state. The veterinarian must be able to evaluate each individual situation.
Like human kids, some pets act up with an audience but calm down with gentle veterinary handling. That means the treatment takes less time, which means a quicker and more efficient visit. Your cat and dog are back in your arms more quickly.
Every pet is different. If your pets feel more secure on your lap or with you offering a treat during the exam, say so. The staff should be willing to try to see if this works for your situation. Here are more tips for relieving stress in cats.
Veterinarians say…RESTRAINT ISSUES
It’s true that not all pet parents know how to safely and effectively restrain pets in a stress-free manner. There may also be liability issues if someone is bitten. When concerned about proper restraint, pet parents can still be present perhaps by holding a lick-able treat while the staff restrains and performs the treatment. You can learn how to distract, gently restrain, and retrain your pets for less stressful visits.
Be honest if you’re unable to help safely restrain your pet in a stress-free manner. The staff may rightly have concerns about liability issues in the face of bite injuries. Holding a pet incorrectly could actually increase the cat or dog’s stress and get YOU bitten, too!
Your pets feel your anxiety and that can increase the cat or dog stress level, too. So if you hate the sight of needles, or your dog feels protective with you near, the vet may have concerns. Be open to adjusting to your pet’s needs.
Veterinarians say…SPACE CONCERNS
Exam rooms that are tiny and awkward to maneuver can make large dogs feel trapped. Open spaces of “the back” reduce this stress. There may also be insurance concerns that prevent non-clinic personnel from entering certain areas. Radiographs, for instance, require protective gear and exposure data records.
For instance, Bravo-Dawg weighed over 100 pounds. That meant he couldn’t fit on the exam room table. The exam room felt cramped with barely enough room to maneuver with a vet, assistant, and myself in the room.
Veterinarians say…EQUIPMENT ACCESS
The standard clinic design can make the back a much more convenient location for treatment. Staff has ready access to proper lighting, sinks, supplies, emergency equipment and more.
Depending on the treatment, proper supplies, good lighting, sink, and other equipment are more easily accessible in the back. In some cases, your vet may be willing for you to come to the back, too. But some procedures like X-rays or surgery probably aren’t advisable.
Veterinarians say…STAFF DISCOMFORT
Having the pet parent present may raise the practitioner’s fear, anxiety, and stress level. It may take longer to perform a blood draw, for example, when the owner accidentally interferes. Maybe the vet worries about getting the perfect needle stick and blood draw with a non-professional audience. Staff also has an affection for and connection with your pets, and your understandable concern and emotion also affects them.
As a former vet tech, I’ve assisted in many surgical procedures, but it’s different when the patient is your own dog or cat. Very few people have the ability to witness surgery on their own pets, but may still be eager to be with them up until sedation takes effect.
WORKING WITH YOUR VET
In many cases, the practice of taking pets to the back has simply become a habit. Veterinarians today like clients who ask questions and want to know how best to care for their animals. Find out why the doctor prefers taking your pet to the back, and suggest alternatives.
Let your vet know if you believe your cat or dog does better or worse with you present. Do you hate the sight of blood, or are you an experienced RN or pet professional? If you’re familiar with Fear Free handling, let them know—and come prepared with some tasty treats or other options that help make the staff’s job easier and your pet happier. For instance, cats and dogs may be given vaccines while sitting on your lap as a treat is offered, or even in the waiting room in certain instances.
When the doctor explains why taking the pet “to the back” means better care and less pet stress, be open to this option. You should be able to trust your veterinarian and staff, and vice versa, for the benefit of your cats and dogs.
You and your pet are not like any other client. Being flexible—on both sides—can only help reduce your own potential stress and that of your beloved cats and dogs. If you’re not happy with the arrangement and have worked hard to come to a middle ground, you can seek out another Fear Free practice that’s more open to the need of you and your animal companions.
This post appeared previously in a slightly different form on FearFreePets.com and FearFreeHappyHomes.com.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!