Dog Muzzled at Vet

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dogs bite more than 4.7 million Americans each year. And while more than half of these individuals are children, veterinarians and their staff are among the adults who are considered to be most at risk.

But the good thing is that dog bites are preventable, and in the case of veterinary team members, prevention is most efficiently accomplished through muzzling.

Unfortunately, most owners don’t exactly welcome the application of this ubiquitous veterinary device, which some find insulting to the fundamental character of their beloved pet.

I get it. Really, I do. But while I’ll freely admit that it’s no fun to watch your pet don a Hannibal Lecter-style mask, there are truly valid reasons why vets do this.

Muzzles Prevent . . . Physical Trauma

Few owners understand the degree to which veterinary professionals put their skin on the line every day. It’s a numbers game: Eventually, we will be bitten.

Muzzles Prevent . . . Long-Term Disability

The reality is that each and every bite raises the specter of lasting disability and loss of income for veterinary professionals, which really sucks given that it’s hard to find good disability insurance in our line of work.

Muzzles Prevent . . . Psychological Trauma

It’s a way overlooked issue how impressively tough it can be to recover emotionally and psychologically after a significant bite.

Muzzles Prevent . . . Fear

You never want to walk into a room at a disadvantage — much less a psychological one. And dogs know when you’re not at your most confident, so muzzles go a long way toward mitigating that lack of confidence.

Muzzles Foster . . . Greater Efficiency

Most veterinarians and staff members do a much better job when they can examine patients with no fear of serious repercussions. Sure, dogs can still hurt us with their bulk, claws and possibly even with their front teeth, but the fact that they can’t open their jaws fully means that we’re protected from the worst of it.

How Vets Make the Decision to Muzzle

Inevitably, determining whether or not to muzzle a patient is a subjective call based on a variety of variables, including overt behavior and subtler body language.

Some veterinarians examine dog bite statistics, such as the CDC’s list of top 10 offenders, which is based on emergency room reports.

I respect veterinarians who can look at such numbers and make rational decisions based on these stats. However, I find myself fundamentally at odds with them. In my experience, I muzzle many breeds that, for all their aggressive tendencies, never seem to make these lists.

When it comes to muzzling, it's almost never considered automatic for veterinarians. Most of us will wait for a dog to display aggression before whipping out the thing. As I mentioned earlier, we are sensitive to owner reluctance.

Some safety experts, however, suggest that perhaps it shouldn’t be left to the veterinary professional to decide. After all, if existing veterinary regulations already dictate everything from the chemicals we work with to the shoes we wear, it’s only a matter of time before all canines are muzzled.

I can’t help but think that I’ll eventually be thankful for such a workplace innovation seeing as it’s also just a matter of time before I’ll be bitten badly . . . yet again.

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