Home > Dog Behavior, Dog Training, Health Care - Dogs, Pet Safety > When a vet visit goes badly…

When a vet visit goes badly…


Recently, my brother called me quite upset. It seems he had just taken his dog, Dozer, to the vet to get a check up. His experience had left him extremely upset, mad, and feeling quite guilty.

I was more than a bit surprised by his experience because our dogs happen to go to the very same veterinary clinic. In fact, I chose this clinic BECAUSE of how well they cared for his last dog, Remy. They were great with my last dog, Aspen, and have been absolutely phenomenal with Daisy and Jasper. Listening to my brother’s story left me sad and very disappointed.

As the owner of a fearful dog, I know how stressful a vet visit can be. Knowing that Daisy’s vet and her staff are experienced in handling fearful dogs made all the difference for me. In Dozer’s case, he saw a new vet and a new staff person. I wasn’t there so I can only relate his experience through his eyes, but from what I can gather, there was a lot of man-handling (it took several staff to hold him down to draw blood) and the use of a muzzle. While Daisy likely would have just shut down in this situation, Dozer reacted by biting – thus the muzzle.

My first response after speaking with my brother was to contact my friend, Debbie Jacobs, over at Fearfuldogs.com and share his story. I asked her to please continue to spread her knowledge of how to work with and approach fearful dogs with dog owners and trainers, but to also share it with veterinarians. I suspect that many veterinarians are taught the medicine side of vet care, but perhaps not as much the animal behavior side – something that is so badly needed.

Thankfully, Debbie responded pretty quickly. It turns out that has already begun to connect with veterinarians. She is sharing her book with them and offering to meet with them individually to help them better understand how to handle fearful dogs. Just like many vets, Debbie wants to make the visit to the vet clinic as stress-free as possible.

Debbie also shared with me that Dr. Sophia Yin, animal behaviorist and veterinarian, has some great information for owners and veterinarians on her website. As luck would have it, a dog training friend of mine shared a wonderful post on this topic just today. It is here – I highly encourage people to read it and then pass it on to their veterinarian and other dog owners.

My brother still feels guilty for letting the vet and her staff do all that they did to Dozer and is looking for a new vet. I can only hope that his and Dozer’s experience hasn’t left a lasting impression that will haunt them both on future vet visits.

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  1. June 5, 2011 at 5:06 PM

    So sorry to hear about your brother’s experience, Mel. Seems that can happen all too often. I sometimes wonder if the understanding of animal behavior shouldn’t be considered at least as important as the medical science, for vets! Hope the future holds better experiences for Dozer!

    • Mel
      June 5, 2011 at 6:22 PM

      You know Kim, that’s a great point. I think it should be given at least equal attention. It’s so darn important when you consider that your dog has to go to the vet for shots, check ups, etc. I hope the future experiences for my brother and Doze are better too.

  2. June 5, 2011 at 8:59 PM

    Poor Dozer…wow, what a horrible experience. No dog,let alone a fearful one, should be man-handled. Glad to hear Debbie Jacobs is sharing her knowledge with vets – she’s such a great resource!

    • Mel
      June 5, 2011 at 9:20 PM

      Thanks Mary. I agree. Fortunately, I trust Daisy’s vet completely. She is gentle, kind and caring with her and Jasper. I don’t know what happened, but I think any info Debbie shares with vets is helpful information. She is an awesome resource!

  3. June 6, 2011 at 2:30 AM

    We had an almost identical experience. Our regular vet was gone–the previous visit with him had gone fine, so I wasn’t expecting any issues. However, while we were in the waiting room a large dog came out, and Sparky felt trapped there, so he barked and barked. Thus he was already agitated when we went into the exam room, and the new vet called in two techs to hold him and shave him for a blood test. That never happened; Sparky was too wiggly. So the vet suggested a sedative, and asked me to bring him back in a few hours. I was hesitant, but the vet assured me it would be harmless. Well, the tech couldn’t even get the injection in–only a third of it took effect. Then they gave him a vaccination, which he squealed over. I never brought him back that day, but two weeks later I needed to return for the next round of puppy shots. In the meantime, I took him to the location and walked him around, giving him treats. Then another day I brought him in while they were closed and the techs all sat around and gave him treats. They were very understanding, and said they wished more people would do that. THEN I scheduled the appt with our regular vet, and all went well. Except that’s when they discovered the microchip had failed, so the blood test (needed for a pet passport) would have been in vain anyway! We ultimately decided not to go forward with the pet passport. We’ll try later if we need to. It means he can’t go to France, but, c’est la vie!

    • Mel
      June 6, 2011 at 5:52 AM

      Oh wow Kathy. You had quite the experience as well didn’t you?
      What I love is what you and the vet techs did afterwards to make sure that Sparky’s next visit went better. I actually suggested that my brother do the same thing – go in to meet staff and vets a few times before any procedures. I think it was just too much all at once for Dozer. I am sorry that Sparky won’t be able to go to France with you. I hope you have a great time though! Thanks for sharing your experience!

      I should also make clear that my vet and the staff that I know at this same clinic are awesome and are experienced with working with fearful dogs. It’s one of the reasons why I will continue to see my vet. I rarely see vets offices that know as much as this staff knows about approaching dogs.

  4. June 6, 2011 at 10:21 AM

    Unfortunately, I can relate to this experience. Shiva never actually bit anyone but our previous vet made no effort to make her less fearful in his office and it was always an incredibly stressful experience. She would bark constantly and he ignored our suggestions of giving her the treates we had brought. Instead, he just made scathing remarks about how rescue dogs will always have behavioural problems and he doesn’t think all of them should be saved. It was awful and I am so glad we decided to switch. I feel so bad now that we stayed with him for so long.

    Thanks for passing on the link!

  5. June 6, 2011 at 3:03 PM

    Really sorry to hear about Dozer’s experience – some vets just seem to think they know best and either don’t have the time or don’t care to take the time to listen to owners and adjust to particular dogs’ needs. Thanks for the links and the information. Hope Dozer is OK.

    • Mel
      June 6, 2011 at 9:54 PM

      Thanks Janet. I am glad all vets aren’t like that. I know mine isn’t. She’s awesome. That’s what made me so sad. It was the same clinic but a different vet.

  6. June 6, 2011 at 8:13 PM

    I feel so lucky with the experiences I’ve had with my vets. One of the nice touches is their willingness to get down on the floor so dogs don’t have to experience the scary, metal table.

    I hope your brother doesn’t beat himself up too much over the experience. All of us have had times when we wished we had defied people who caused discomfort to our dogs. It’s hard to think clearly in the middle of a tense situation.

    The important thing is that your brother knows what kind of treatment he wants for Dozer in the future and I know he’ll do everything he can to ensure it.

    • Mel
      June 6, 2011 at 9:57 PM

      Pamela – That is exactly what my vet does with Daisy. She is always gentle with her and moves slowly so as not to scare her. I told my brother exactly what you said – not to beat himself up about it. I think sometimes we are unsure what to do in situations where where one person has some authority. The tense situation likely just added to the confusion about what to do. Thank you so much for your kind comments.

  7. Shannon E. Pivoney
    June 7, 2011 at 2:10 PM

    Well, I am very sorry that this happened to Dozer. As a vet tech though, I really want to stress to people that not all vets are like that. Obviously, man-handling is out of the question and unethical. There are many times when I have handled a pet more than likely more vigorously than the owner expected, but at the same time, I have been doing this for nearly a decade and would NEVER do anything to harm a pet.
    Each pet responds to different handling styles – some cats feel more secure being scruffed and will calm down, others will become more agitated. Same thing with dogs – some respond to the slow, sweet talking and others will get more anxious over it. Numerous dogs respond well to a stern voice that let’s them know they are not in charge of the situation. Often times, a muzzle will be placed to protect the staff members but also as a way to distract the dog from whatever procedure is going on. There have been plenty of times I have placed a muzzle on a pet to that effect rather than I am worried he is going to bite.

    At any rate, I think the important lesson to learn from this is you have to trust your veterinarian and his/her staff. If you at any time are concerned with the treatment of your pet, please ask them to stop and explain it. If stopping to discuss it will not cause harm to your pet, the good veterinarians will do it. They can assuage your nerves or correct themselves if necessary.

    I certainly emphatize with Dozer’s situation – that certainly does not help build the trusting relationship needed to best care for Dozer. However, I also want to be sure to point out that the good techs/DVMs may not do things the way you think they should be done and will not do things to harm your animal. We all have scars upon scars upon scars from pets who are angry to be at the vet. We owe it to the pet and our skin to get things done safely, efficiently, and correctly.

    Hope your next visits are better!

    (PS My cat is one of the uncooperative who always tries to bite the vet – talk about embarassing!)

  8. June 7, 2011 at 2:32 PM

    That’s tough. :( We’ve been very lucky with Bella, thank goodness. She doesn’t love going to the vet, but she tolerates it.

    • Mel
      June 7, 2011 at 8:30 PM

      I am so glad that your experience has not been like many others who have commented here. So glad you have a great vet! Bella is a lucky girl. :)

  9. June 7, 2011 at 6:38 PM

    I tried a new vet after moving a couple of hours away from the vet we love. After the first visit I was done! Their practice was to take dogs to the back (without me) to have their blood drawn. I refused to agree to that, so they made a special exception and drew the boy’s blood in an exam room. The policy that prevented me from holding the dogs during the needle stick was not as flexible. Ty is uncomfortable with strangers and and to endure one of them “restraining” him while the other handled the needle. They must have stuck him a half dozen times trying to get the vein. That was it – after that we drove two hours to see their regular vet.

    • Mel
      June 7, 2011 at 8:36 PM

      I have the same wariness of vets who take people’s dogs into the back area. I am sure it is necessary sometimes, but I always feel like I am abandoning my dog to a fearful situation. I once had to take Jasper to another vet for an emergency (ours is about 30 minutes away and I was between pet sitting visits). They insisted that Jasper go into the back. I could hear him crying. It nearly broke my heart. Needless to say, we never went back there. Our vet is not like that at all. Thank God!
      I am so sorry your experience was so negative Amy. It makes the awesome vets so much more valuable doesn’t it?

  10. JJ
    June 7, 2011 at 7:30 PM

    I had that experience with my own vet a few years back.

    However, I feel that, as the owner of several fearful dogs, it is my responsibility to step in, step on toes if necessary, and become a utilitarian dictator at the vet’s office. I don’t allow them to hold down, force, or otherwise traumatize my dog.

    I suppose if you’re not expecting it, you wouldn’t know what to do…. but you CAN say no and you can tell them to stop that.

    Our lab Cosmo was dive-tackled (not kidding) by a vet tech and held down. We calmly said, That was stupid and if that dog is so scared by what you did that he bites you, the dog is going to be the least of your worries. GET OFF.

    We then proceeded to peel a very terrified vet tech off of an equally terrified black lab and then forced her to feed him some chicken nuggets (he said yummm. we is can be friends now) while the vet came in and drew blood.

    We had been prepared (even had our own muzzle) and had explained HOW this procedure would be done three times. She dismissed us once….but hasn’t ever done it again. (We scare her more than the dogs do, and for good reason.)

    • Mel
      June 7, 2011 at 8:38 PM

      Julie – I agree with you that it is our responsibility. But I think sometimes we assume the person in authority knows best when that may not necessarily be the case. Cosmo is very, very lucky that you were there to step in. I have no doubt you are a force to be reckoned with! :)

  11. June 9, 2011 at 5:30 PM

    I feel sorry for your brother and Dozer. He must have been schocked thinking he went to a “fearful-friendly” clinic. He was caught off-guard, and it could have happened to all of us.

    I hope he doesn’t feel to guilty, I am sure he takes excellent care of Dozer. Just sad sometimes these things happen, it is difficult to prevent. One of the things that we all have adapted as fearful dog owners, to always think the unthinkable, yet it happens.

    Good you have put Debbie on the case :)

    • Mel
      June 10, 2011 at 6:33 AM

      Thanks Leo. I agree. Sometimes things happen. It’s all in what we learn from it so we can be more aware and prevent it from happening again. Debbie rocks!

  12. June 13, 2011 at 8:27 PM

    It’s always awkward when there’s one vet in the practice who’s great with your pet and one (or two) who isn’t / aren’t. I ultimately have to think of Frankie but always feel I have to avert my eyes when I encounter the other vets who have bad “vetside” manner. Or I should say I don’t feel bad about one of them — he was so rough with Frankie *I* wanted to bite him! But the other was just not particularly gentle and told me that Frankie is “peculiar” — i.e., she was just bad enough to make me never want to take Frankie to her anymore, but not bad enough to avoid feeling slightly guilty because she did certain nice things (like come in after hours so I could take Frankie home instead of leaving him overnight).

    If I didn’t like the one vet so much I would change practices! It would be nice if there was a uniform standard of conduct for all vets in one practice, no?

  13. June 15, 2011 at 7:07 AM

    hello, as the owner of a fearful dog I was interested to read your blog after someone retweeted the link on my Twitter timeline. Sorry to hear your brother had this bad experience. I have been very lucky with Stella’s vets who in the most part have been very understanding about her often neurotic ways. Only one stands out as being unsympathetic & unknowledgeable during our many varied visits over the last 7 years. Hope it’s ok to link here in my own WoofWednesday blog as I’d like to hear of other UK experiences with fearful dogs and their vets?

  14. Reader
    November 20, 2011 at 2:28 PM

    I am responding to this months later, but I feel like it is such an important issue! I work with dogs 5 days a week in a boarding kennel and see all kinds of dogs every day. I see the ones that knock me over from excitement, the ones that won’t get out of their car, the ones that “I’m not big enough to handle” and the ones who have never bit a person in their life (this doesn’t and will never mean that they don’t have teeth. Very distinct difference). What I see is a lack of socialization people give their dogs, and then get upset when I’m handed their dogs leash and they see a nervous, shaking ball of nerves that is now in a new environment with new people. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to see how to handle this kind of dog, but only because of my experience with these dogs over the years. As a pet owner, I try to see both side of the coin. On one side, I’m the first to jump to my dog’s defense when I think someone, especially a person working with animals, is not approaching her correctly. She is a dog and does not understand why you’re putting her on this tall table and why she can’t hide behind my legs and look at you instead. On the other side, I work with dogs and I know how difficult it is to know how a dog is going to react to any type of handling. I think it is the responsibility of both the pet owner and any type of person working with that animal to make sure the dog has a good experience wherever it is. I like to do my job like this: how I would want someone to treat my dog, that’s how I try treat other people’s dogs. And that means: extra cookies, kisses and love when they’re scared. It is not easy to deal with a fearful dog, especially one that is not your own or you’ve never met before (or worse: has bit you before) but this is what these vets/vet techs/kennel assistants/groomers do every day and any help we can offer them is appreciated. We can expect the same respect in return, because any extra TLC that can be offered to our dog when we’re not around or cannot help a situation is something WE greatly appreciate.

  15. Max
    October 8, 2012 at 2:59 PM

    Max and I had an awful experience at the vet last Friday.

    I had taken Max to the vet for an ear infection. The vet decided max needed a blood test for allergies. i asked her, how the blood draw would be done. She assured me, that her tech will hold him and she will draw blood from cephalic vein. They did not want me in the treatment room. He was in there for quiet some time, hence I looked in the room. Max was muzzled (which I was told will not happen) and the tech was prepping his neck. Two other people were holding him. I was appalled and asked them to stop.
    I was there for his ear infection, which the vet said “there is no point in treating his ear, if it is due to allergies”.
    She also dispensed “adequan” for his arthritis $165….which I did not the reason for the visit.
    She also threatened that the muzzle was important as, if Max were to bite her tech, he would be euthanize!! I was in tears when I took him home…..due to the way he was treated and the threat of euthnization.
    He had a horrible night, scratching his left ear and I had to take him to the ER next day (Saturday). He was diagnosed with otitis externa and dispensed ointment and ear wash.

    1. The vet did not care about Max’s ear…just wanted to rack up the bill.
    2. How can I prevent this from happening to other pets?
    3. Why do they have to take pets to another room and not do it in parents presence?

    • Mel
      October 8, 2012 at 9:04 PM

      Oh wow Max. I am so sorry. What an awful experience!

      I think you did all the right things in asking questions, pushing back and taking him to the emergency vet. I think we often forget to interview our vets like we would a housekeeper or nanny. These are the people we entrust with our pet’s lives and we need to get better at asking questions. I know I do too.
      If you have Yelp where you live and want to write a review that might be one way to share your experience.

      I once took Jasper to another vet when he was bitten. They also took him into another room. I didn’t like it. However, I do understand that sometimes having the pet parent there can be more stressful for the pet. I am thankful that my regular vet has never had to do that. But, I trust her completely. I know she has my dog’s best interest at heart.

      I am so very sorry this happened to you. How awful. My brother switched vets after his experience.

    • March 9, 2013 at 4:06 AM

      Oh yeah, I’ve been here too!

      After a bad experience with a vet and one of my SPCA foster kittens {was a foster mum at the time} I don’t EVER let anyone take my animal anywhere without me.

      This vet was not able to find a vet to euthanize her {she was tiny!} and said he would have to take her ‘in the back’ to do it. Only later, with more experience do I wish I had never let him do that because it makes no sense. What was he doing that he didn’t want me to witness?

      You only learn this one after the first bad experience. And it hurts on various levels.

  16. February 6, 2013 at 5:22 PM

    Yes, but keep in mind that some vets aren’t so great at the medical side, either. Also, you’re going to run into this with veterinarians just like you are with physicians, some of whom have no bedside manner but are medically at the top and with it. The best medicine is not being afraid to switch vets for your pet and to be willing to seek a second opinion if circumstances warrant.

    • Mel
      February 7, 2013 at 10:43 PM

      What great insight Jane. You are SO right.

  17. March 9, 2013 at 4:00 AM

    Last year I took my 17-year old skin and bones kidney failure, frail but eternally feisty cat, Indi, to be euthanized and the vet wanted to muzzle her to do it.

    I am still stunned when I think of it.

    Luckily, the vet nurse saved the situation and burrito-wrapped my Indi while the vet went to get the muzzle.

    All was well but I learned yet again you really have to keep your wits about you when dealing with a new vet and put your big-girl-pants-on if necessary and stand up and protect your pet. Say ‘stop!’ and walk out. Not easy to do.

    I’ve had similar experiences with dog trainers and I find it challenging. It’s a betrayal of trust for the pet AND us.

    I totally get that if the vet is at risk of a bite, especially on the hand, this can at the very least put them out of action for 6 weeks and that’s not cool. But they need to take a breath and give the animal space and time to calm down then look at other options.

    On the other hand, the onus is firmly on us to protect our pet. It’s not the vet’s responsibility, it’s ours. And yet we seem to so easily kind of trust vets and trainers to be thinking of the whole animal but as you said, they are coming at it from a medical point-of-view.

    The other thing with Dozie is that this vet has now reinforced his fear by giving him evidence that he was correct to be afraid because he got held down and muzzled and this has put back all the great progress he made.

    I really feel for your brother and as someone who has trusted vets and dog trainers and then had that trust badly betrayed I totally empathize. Tell your brother thanks for sharing this, that it’s not his or Dozie’s fault. Some vets have a really authoritative air that’s hard to stand up to.

    So difficult.

    • Mel
      March 9, 2013 at 7:49 AM

      I am so sorry to hear about your cat. I know I will soon face this as my cat Ni k is 19. I cannot imagine muzzling your cat. I’m so glad the vet tech realized that a burrito wrap would be better for both you and your cat. You’re right, you do need to be your pet’s advocate. It’s really disappointing when that trust is betrayed, but knowing you NEED to be an advocate for your pet can help prevent some of that.

      Thank you for sharing your story.

  18. Adam
    April 17, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    I’m sorry but this is ridiculous, I can’t really comment on the dogs behaviour because you haven’t really explained what the dog was like prior to the restraint and muzzle being put on. I work at a Vets so I see and assist these sorts of things on a regular basis. If a dog, or a cat for that matter is hard to handle, restraint will take place and if a muzzle needs to be applied for whatever reason then it will be. This is standard procedure. A vet does not expect a dog to sit still while blood is being taken, it RARELY happens therefore restraint by one, two or three people may have to happen, they have ALL been trained in animal handling and restraint and know how to correctly do it. I have dealt with EXTREMELY aggressive animals, where I have needed to medicate, inject and tend to them, where restraint by more than one person and a muzzle has been needed. I’m not saying your brothers dog was aggressive but if a vet feels that there is a risk of the dog biting him/her or even you for that matter, a muzzle will be applied and if the dog won’t sit still for the vet to take blood, restraint needs to take place.
    Vets HAVE to learn animal behaviour while at Vet school, it is of as much importance as anything! How does a vet assess an animal without knowing behaviour? It’s just ridiculous for you to say that they’re not taught behaviour.
    Veterinary Surgeons have studied and worked damn hard to get where they are, they know how to handle a situation and do not need owners criticizing them on their handling and restraint decisions. EVERYBODY (especially Vets) that works within a veterinary practice have a PASSION for animals, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. The animal is in their only and best interests.

  19. Shelly
    April 22, 2013 at 8:35 PM

    Im ffeling a bit desperate! Took my puppy to the vet today and he seems very sad and touchy, seems hes in pain. He weights 1.6 lbs and My mind is wondering right know if he was administered the correct amount of dosage or was it too much for his little body! Can somebody say something good, is it normal, this behavior after vaccines in a puppy? :(

  20. October 11, 2013 at 9:32 AM

    It’s really sad to know about Dozer’s story. I believe a veterinarian has to be caring and gentle when attending to their patients. And that’s the only way they gain a level of trust from a veterinarian patient and its owner. So, first and foremost comes the way you treat your patient. Good veterinary training and qualification are the crux to better treatment. I think these new online course websites like veritasdvm.com and the likes are doing a great job by teaching veterinarian students all they need to know.

  21. October 30, 2013 at 12:40 AM

    I am sad to hear about Dozer. You deserve much better service.

  1. June 12, 2011 at 10:34 PM

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