Several studies in the Occupational Medicine Journal analysing significant injuries to Australian veterinarians have concluded that we face “an unacceptably high risk of injury”. It was found that vets face a nine times greater risk of serious injury when compared to human medical practitioners.
In the preceding 12 months, 48% of vets reported a skin penetrating dog bite, whilst 67% reported a serious cat bite or scratch. Of the total significant injuries recorded, 66% were attributable to bites. The most common site of injury was the hand followed by the upper limb but worryingly 12% were facial injuries resulting in open wounds that required hospitalisation and surgery, including two partial nasal amputations.
Cat bites can be particularly dangerous. Most cats carry pathogenic bacteria in their mouths [Pasteurella, Streptococci and Fusobacterium spp] which can be deeply implanted at the time of bite increasing risks of septicaemia, septic arthritis and amputation even with early antibiotic therapy.
The authors concluded that the studies indicated a “frequent lack of use of safety precautions” and that “muzzling dogs and cats should be considered more frequently in veterinary practice”.
Toughen Up Sugarpuff?
Some owners are embarrassed or even upset when their pets are muzzled. Some even take the commonly performed risk reduction strategy as a personal slight. Vets do not muzzle every pet. They make a visual behavioural assessment and are well trained to read body language for evidence of heightened bite risk. They also keep accurate records of each pet’s adverse response to previous procedures. Placed temporarily muzzles pose no short or long term risk to pet or owner.
Vets work closely with pets, many of whom are injured, in pain or anxious. They commonly perform procedures that require physical restraint and which, despite all attempts to minimise them, can cause pain or distress. Pain is a strong behavioural motivator mediated via the fear/anxiety emotional system and even “nice” dogs and cats will bite when sore.
So please be understanding if your local vet needs to muzzle your dog. Be assured they are not judging you. More likely they are following OHS guidelines, as dictated by their employer or insurance broker, or they may just want their hands and face to remain in functional working order.