Okaw Veterinary Clinic LLC

140 West Sale Street
Tuscola, IL 61953



Putting our Patients First with Pet Friendly Handling


Before I took the extra time, money and energy to become certified in animal behavior, I used the traditional methods of pet that I was taught in school and on the job. The approach rubbed me the wrong way, so I would try to avoid a lot of struggling by rescheduling an appointment breaking up procedures and using tranquilizers as needed. I had a gut feeling that holding dogs and cats tighter was not helping the overall experience for the pet, the client or myself. A few years later at a veterinary lecture, I discovered I was right. There I learned the concept and protocols of rewarding during  the exam. This not only validated the use of treats,"baby talk" and avoiding strong hold tactics, it opened my eyes to the effect of our traditional handling techniques. The effect is fear of the exam. This is why many dogs and cats hate coming to the veterinary office. This anxiety and stress results in staff becoming bitten which can be avoided by handling and approaching exams in a different way.

Traditional handling techniques focus on holding animals tightly, using force or sedatives to prevent the animal from biting or scratching the veterinarian. It makes logical sense, but completely ignores the effect on the animal. What does the animal learn? That exam tables, scales,needles and the people who use these items may take you away from the person you trust and know (owner) and hold you down no matter how much you resist. These methods have actually caused a lot of pets to be afraid of the clinic and each exam is more difficult. 

Why do so many clinics still practice this way? Few schools of veterinary medicine and technology are incorporating less stressful/rewarding methods of handling into the curriculum. A few do, but it is not yet the standard of education. A primary reason is that the liability insurance companies and attorneys have strongly advised to only allow veterinary staff to be involved during exams to avoid legal suits in the event of any human injury (client injury). It was about 20 years ago that this dictum came down from the major supplier of malpractice/liability insurance and there were no formal protocol, articles or information to counter the traditional handling approach. So as the "take them in the back" or "please wait in the waiting area as we treat"approach was used, animal behaviorist recognized the fear inducing effect of this. Specific ways to reward during injection, modify holds that would not be as uncomfortable were introduced into veterinary lectures. Now practices are beginning to use some of these techniques but it may vary from one practice to the other.

That lecture gave me the methods and training information to transform our practice. Our office uses only low stress/ rewarding and pro active pain reducing strategies thru out the exam process no matter the age or temperament of the dog or cat. In my opinion it is too harmful to your pet's mental health handle them in any other way. There are options for exams and treatment,some of which will not be convenient for the owner. It may involve returning on another visit,waiting as calming pheromones, anti anxiety medication or mild tranquilizers take effect. If you pet starts to struggle, it is much better to stop, and only stress the pet mildly than to struggle and have a really bad experience.

If you don't want to use sedatives, then bring your pet into the clinic for just weight checks, say hi to the staff - get a treat and go home. These are the "fun"visits that your pet needs to associate good things with the vet. You will need to take the time to do this -and the investment is worth it for you and your pet. I love it when clients come in with their dog or cat for a "fun" visit.  Then I am not the person who only sees them when they are sick or in pain. They associate me and my staff with goodies and petting. Even if the waiting area is busy, just wait a few minutes outside or take a seat in the corner and reward your pet as all the hustle and bustle goes by. This still teaches your pet that the veterinary office is not all bad.

Our cats often have the most difficult time with exams. Cats do not like to leave their own territory and are not as food motivated as dogs. We can still make it good for our cats. We use Feliway feline marking pheromone in the office and even spray it on ourselves to help your cat out. We send out bandanas sprayed with Feliway for you to use to make the trip in easier - even for new clients.Just ask and we will mail it out free of charge for scheduled exams.Elderly cats are often the most cranky and that is often due to pain that is not evident to us. Pre-emptive pain reduction means we give older cats an oral pain reliever at the start of the exam, which makes the exam easier on your kitty. Now the owners are less stressed about what their cat is feeling because they see we are taking steps to make it better for them - and those steps work. Too few cats get the yearly checkups and screening health exams they need because they really don't like coming to us. When you make an appointment, tell us how your cat acts and we can help your cat have abetter exam without automatically sedating them. We understand how your pet feels and work to make it better for them and you.

If you are concerned about how your reacts to veterinary visits, ask your veterinarian about what they can or are willing to do to decrease the stress on your pet. If the clinic does not seem to understand what you want, check with other clinics. Your pet can love the veterinary clinic. I have personally seen dogs and cats that were aggressive change over to calm, happy patients using these approaches. It may seem silly to hear a doctor of veterinary medicine making baby talk to your huge Rottweiler but if that is what keeps your buddy happy as we take a heartworm test, vaccinate or examine, that is what your pet will get. They deserve the best experience as well as the best care.  

You can see videos on low stress handling at my YouTube channel. If you have any questions about what you can do at home to make coming to the veterinary clinic easier, contact me.

  - written by Dr. Sally J. Foote

Okaw Veterinary Clinic
140 W. Sale
Tuscola, IL 61953
(217) 253-3221


Mon & Fri 8 am - 6 pm
Tues & Wed 8 am - 5 pm
Sat 8 am - noon
Closed Thurs & Sun

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