When you visit our office, you may occasionally see a dog that is wearing a muzzle. Chances are, you will wonder why the dog needs a muzzle. To many dog owners, the idea of muzzling their own dogs seems so unfair.
If the dog has never bitten anyone or shown aggression, he doesn’t need a muzzle, right? This might be the case when a dog is at home or in a familiar environment. But a dog’s behavior can change dramatically if he is nervous or afraid.
Humans may get stressed, fearful, or anxious and lash out aggressively by yelling or fighting. When dogs are stressed or fearful, they may lash out by biting. Unfortunately, this can lead to euthanasia for a dog that was merely afraid and responded the only way he knew how.
Why your veterinarian may suggest a muzzle
As veterinary professionals, our job is to enhance the human-animal bond and keep our patients safe, happy, and healthy. We deal with many different types of animals and are experts at reading pets’ facial expressions and body language.
We may see signs that your pet is agitated. These behaviors include pacing in the exam room, not wanting to approach the staff, or turning away when we attempt to examine certain body areas. Additionally, if a dog growls, he is communicating his feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress.
If we sense that your dog is uncomfortable and might react in a negative way, we may consider a muzzle for your pet’s safety. This will allow us to perform essential services for your pet while keeping our staff safe.
When the veterinarian decides a muzzle is the safest option, she is thinking of your dog. The doctor wants your veterinary visit to be as quick and stress-free as possible. You might think the muzzle would only make your dog more stressed. However, many dogs may calm down once they are muzzled.
A muzzle often creates a quieter, more relaxed, and safer environment for you, your dog, and the veterinary staff.
From the Vet’s Point of View:
- A muzzle prevents a dog from biting the veterinary staff.
- Muzzling prevents quarantining the dog (per state law) and possible euthanasia because of a bite.
- We can restrain a dog (for X-rays or nail trims) much more easily when he is muzzled.
- We can perform procedures (like drawing blood or taking a temperature) much more quickly.
- When a dog is calm and muzzled, the veterinarian can provide a more comprehensive exam, make a diagnosis, and provide treatment.
From the Pet’s Point of View:
- A dog may already have a negative association with the vet’s office because of an uncomfortable car ride or motion sickness.
- Unfamiliar sounds and smells in the clinic may stress the dog and make him anxious.
- Procedures like blood draws or ear exams are scary to a dog.
- A dog in pain may lash out automatically, just as a human may yank their hand back from a hot stove.
Unfortunately, people think dogs wearing muzzles are scary. They label those dogs as “aggressive” and “bad,” but this stigma needs to change. Groups like The Muzzle Up! Project are trying to change people’s perceptions.
We never know when a pet will be in a situation where a muzzle may be beneficial. Those situations include emergencies (such as being hit by a car) as well as introductions to new environments. Muzzles keep dogs safe when in public or around unfamiliar people, animals, and situations.
Muzzle training is an important skill for every dog to have. It can help keep veterinary teams safe during examinations and procedures. It can also protect a nervous pet during long-term treatments or in the case of emergency care.
A muzzle is a safety precaution just like us wearing a seat belt in the car – we hope we never have to rely on it, but it’s there just in case.
Becky is the Patient Care Coordinator at Countrycare Animal Complex and has been serving pets and their people here for over 17 years. She is a Certified Fear Free Veterinary Professional who educates our staff on making our patients as comfortable as possible while they are here. Becky practices what she preaches with her 16 pets (not including fish) at home.