Photo by Dr. Teri Ann Oursler.
We’ve all been frustrated by someone at the clinic waiting room who allows their pet to annoy others. Is it possible that at times we are the ones who unintentionally allow lunging dogs and loose scared cats? Ah, yes, it is. Perhaps that was when we were new to the pet world, or were having a bad day. Whatever the reasons, we can all use an etiquette refresher once in a while about good manners in the veterinarian’s waiting room. Good manners also mean safety: protection from getting bitten, frightened, or diseased.
Be aware of the types of animals around you and act appropriately. Don’t allow your pet to bother others. If your dog is hyper or frightened, let her stay in the car while you check in (if the weather allows it; if not, ask if there’s an appropriate place you can wait inside). Then take your pet out to the car immediately after you leave the exam room and then go back in to pay the bill. If you have a scared cat, don’t let children or well-intentioned adults approach her, and don’t sit next to a barking or lunging dog. If the waiting room is full, ask the front desk if there is a spot you can wait where there will be less stress for your pet.
Animals in pain may bite, and you can’t know if someone else’s pet is in pain. Give them space for your own safety.
- A contained cat is a safe cat. A cat in a carrier is less afraid than one held on your shoulder, neck, or head, especially when two mastiffs walk in.
- A cat carried into a mixed species practice in your arms is a disaster waiting to happen.
- A cat in a carrier can’t scratch anyone — including the dog on the floor sitting next to you — can’t use your shoulder as a springboard, can’t pee on the floor, can’t be physical with the cat next to you, can’t do anything about an attraction to a female in heat, and can’t bolt out the door into the parking lot. Some cats are calmer in pillowcases than in carriers, and pillowcases make a great alternative when the carrier is lost somewhere in the garage.
- An exception to the “cats can’t scratch when contained” practice involves some cardboard carriers that have round air holes through which a cat can stick out a front leg and whap anything within reach. Even random swiping has been known to successfully connect with a target.
- Don’t force your cat to interact with the cat, dog, human, or ferret in the waiting room. Putting your cat's face right into a stranger’s might not end up well for anyone, including the arms of the human holding the cat.
- Leash your dog, but not with a retractable. The clinic should have one for you to borrow if you need it. This rule applies to all dogs, even guide dogs, dogs with obedience titles, puppies, dogs who weigh 2 pounds, the little squirt bouncing around trying to hump knees, and the friendly dog who wants to greet everyone with a slobbery kiss.
- Give your dog the chance to relieve herself before coming inside.
- If your dog has an accident in the lobby – nerves can do that to the best of us! – let the front desk know so it can be cleaned up. Racing outside as an accident begins just creates a longer mess.
- Ask permission before approaching other people’s animals to pet or play. If someone says “please don’t sit near my dog,” don’t sit near the dog. Some people are too nice to tell other folks to leave their pets alone, even if there are issues such as aggression, behavior, infectious diseases your pet could get, or zoonotic diseases you could get. You don't want to be unpleasantly surprised by being bitten or having ringworm.
- Some dogs in the hospital waiting room are ill and pulling a Greta Garbo - they just want to be left alone. Respect that.
- Keep your dog away from other dogs, even if he just wants to say hi or grab a quick sniff.
- Suggestion 6 applies to puppies in particular. Some adult dogs dislike puppy energy even when they’re feeling well. Plus – and this is a big plus – some puppies haven’t finished their vaccination series and it’s not a good idea to expose them to unknown illnesses.
- If your dog is ill and undiagnosed, assume something could be contagious and stay far away from other dogs until proven otherwise.
- If your dog is aggressive or scared, don’t let her near other pets. Also, sit far away from the front desk to alleviate your dog's tension.
- If some person or pet is bothering your dog, ask them to stop and then get up and move.
Small Mammals, Reptiles, and Birds
All of these pets should be transported in carriers, not brought in on your shoulder or in your arms. It’s too dangerous for them, and you could get hurt in an entanglement. If your pet gets hurt because you came in with him loose, it’s your responsibility.
- Little furry critters like rats and bunnies are often seen by other pets as a fast food snack; some dogs and cats are hard-wired to hunt them and going after them is pure instinct.
- If your pet decides to go exploring, she could get hurt or disrupt activity in the clinic. Your hamster or iguana shouldn’t be scuttling under file cabinets that have to be moved in order to retrieve her. Your bunny should not surprise a dog in an exam room.
- Even at a species-specific clinic, your pet should be contained to minimize the pet’s stress and to prevent escaping for exploration.
- A carrier will prevent your reptile from scaring people who are afraid of reptiles. That will prevent your pet from getting scared by the upset people.
- Use fabric to cover up the openings in the door and side of a cat carrier to keep your small reptile from becoming frightened.
- Large snakes are best transported in a securely fastened cloth bag such as a pillow case or duffle bag. Many people are afraid of big snakes. Avoid causing your pet any stress generated from screaming people.
- Small birds appreciate a towel in the crate for good footing.
- For big birds like macaws, install a perch in something like a Vari-Kennel 200 crate. Use orange and apple slices to keep your bird happy and hydrated while he waits.
A little forethought and courtesy go a long ways toward making the lobby part of the visit significantly calmer for everyone.