Minimising stress in patients should always be a priority in your practice. Some veterinary professionals believe that implementing low-stress methods in their practice will be time-consuming or difficult. However, small modifications to your daily routine can markedly enhance patient welfare.
Do you come to greet your patient before taking them into the consult room? Think about your body language and how that may be perceived by the dog. Facing a dog directly, standing over them, or reaching out for them can be very frightening. Alternatively, sit with your back towards them or sideways; this likely to be much less threatening. Throw them treats rather than make them approach you. Highly food motivated dogs will do almost anything to access food, even if it means going over their 'threshold' and making themselves stressed and in a negative emotional state. This is something that we want to avoid; we want to ensure they are comfortable approaching us.
Next step is to move into the consult room. A simple alteration to your routine is to let the dog enter the room first. If the dog thinks they have made the decision to enter the room, they will likely feel more relaxed and in control, so already you have a calmer dog before you have even examined them.
Is your next step usually lifting the dog on to the consult table? Consider how you would feel being placed onto a platform that was potentially three times or more the height of yourself. To some of you, that would be terrifying. There is a small amount of evidence reporting that a large proportion of dogs display fearful behaviours when on an examination table (Boxall et al. 2004, Döring et al. 2009). Some dogs may show overt signs of fear, others may freeze; yet, these dogs may be experiencing similar stress levels, and physiological parameters such as heart rate may be altered.
It is reasonable to assume that on-the-floor examinations are likely to lead to reduced fear and stress in dogs that have not been desensitised to consulting tables. However, more evidence is needed to assess the stress difference in dogs being examined on the table vs the floor.
Crash mats are ideal for conducting on-the-floor examinations – they are comfortable and easily cleaned. We want to teach our patients that good things happen when in the consult room, and distractions are key to achieve this. Have the owner feed them lots of yummy treats whilst you are examining their pet. Also, feed them a giant pile of their favourite food if you have to administer injections. Ideally, they won’t even notice.
These three small tips should hopefully change your patient experience for the better and make your day that little bit faster and smoother.