Friday, January 10, 2014

#FurbabyFriday: Pets That Bite Without Warning Are a Hazard and a Liability #pethealth #veterinarian #MyWANA

Welcome to my first Furbaby Friday post of the new year. It's been a while since I wrote a piece for this feature segment but events at work last night got my brain running on overdrive and I had to share.

I worked the late shift at the veterinary hospital last night. The day went pretty well until the second to the last patient. It was a cat we've never seen before and the owner didn't bring any records from her other veterinarian. My receptionist and technician only had the information the owner provided on her client information sheet and verbally during the check in process.

The cat presented with a common ailment: conjunctivitis. This is usually due to the feline herpes virus and something we can help the owner manage quite easily—most of the time. The cat was very calm and allowed me to perform a full oral exam, listen to his heart and lungs and palpate his abdomen without any problem. I even went back and showed the owners the amount of dental disease present and recommended a comprehensive oral assessment treatment plan for them to consider after we get his conjunctivitis under control. 

This is where the visit turned ugly. 

Without warning, the cat viciously clamped down on my right hand and removed a nice little chunk of my flesh. Within seconds of that, he went back to being a quiet patient as if nothing happened. What shocked me the most was the owner's reaction. She apologized and said, "Yeah, that's why he's been banned from two other veterinary clinics."

Really? I could've used that bit of information a little earlier than AFTER my hand is injected with all the bacteria residing in the cat's mouth! My injury wouldn't have occurred at all if the owner told my staff or myself this cat's history. We need this information in order to give the best care possible. We have to keep the patient safe as well as the owner, the staff and the doctor.

The history is a very important part in this case because the cat gave absolutely no warning he was upset. His ears were not laid back. He was actually purring during the exam. His eyes were not fully dilated. There wasn't a growl, hiss, swipe of a paw or anything to lead me or my staff to believe he would turn on me. 

I didn't do anything painful for this animal either. No injections. No deep palpations of sore limbs. Nothing.

Pet owners it is your responsibility to inform anyone who comes in contact with your animal any behavior or health issues. YOU are legally responsible if your pet injures another person, especially if you allowed the contact to take place knowing full well the danger you put everyone in during the encounter.

The lesson learned here for my staff and myself is to ask more pointed questions about the patient's behavior. Even if we have to ask repeatedly to get the owner to be honest about it, we'll do it. If we tick some folks off by that they'll just have to take their business elsewhere. We don't have to take this sort of thing when all we want to do is help keep their pet healthy.

To those people who think I should have known the cat would turn on me because I'm a veterinarian—you must've missed the part where I said the cat bit me WITHOUT WARNING. This same thing could've happened to a child in this owner's home. If this animal has a history of biting like this, it can be considered a menace and a danger to people. Animal control can step in and remove the animal from the house to be euthanized.

I don't want that thing to happen to any of my patients but if this sort of behavior is "normal" for this cat, these owners have to seriously consider their options. The first one would be to see a veterinary behaviorist to see if there is anything to be done to curb the biting. Cat aggression is out of my expertise and I always refer my clients to specialists for help on this one.

If they refuse to do that, they need to be more proactive about keeping all encounters with this cat safe for everyone. Not allowing the cat to interact with house guests is a good idea. Informing veterinary personnel about the cat's short fuse and will bite without warning is a MUST each and every time.

This is the third bite I've received in my twenty-one year career that's bad enough for me to be worried about my ability to heal quickly and without additional intervention. By that I mean I may need to have surgery on my hand if this bugger gets infected. I'm on medication now and flushing the wound twice daily, but that may not be enough. Depending on the "bugs" living in that cat's mouth, I could be in for a hell of a medical nightmare.

This is the sort of thing that makes me happy I'm looking at retiring this summer. Injuries like this now take longer for me to bounce back from simply because I'm getting older. I don't have time to be laid up from a potentially career ending bite wound.

Take home message: If you have a pet that's a biter or has shown any aggressive tendencies in the past with family, strangers or other veterinarians, PLEASE be sure to give full disclosure to the next vet and their staff. It will make things so much easier and safer for your pet and everyone else involved.

Until next time,
~Dr. Tammy

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