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Understanding patient behaviour to enhance safety in your veterinary practice

Posted in Operations @ Nov 19th 2015 - By Jodi McDonald, CCG
Understanding Patient Behaviour To Enhance Safety In Your Veterinary Practice

Safety in veterinary practice is our number one priority, for both ourselves, and our patients. 

There are many things we do every day to ensure everyone is safe.  We put sharps in a sharps container, we dry wet floors immediately and we wear appropriate protective equipment when taking x-rays. 

Many of the general safety precautions we take around the clinic are really quite common sense, even to the untrained eye. They are things we see and understand as a hazard and take the appropriate course of action to eliminate or minimise that hazard.  Approaching and handling our hospitalised patients on the other hand may not be common sense.  Of course once you’ve been nursing for a while and completed plenty of study it feels like common sense, but these are skills that need to be learned. 

We try to handle our patients with care and compassion to ensure they feel comfortable and safe but what actually DO they need to feel safe? 

How can we tell what that is?   From our experience with our own pets at home?  Or maybe what makes us – ourselves – feel safe and comfortable? We anthropomorphise animals – treat our patients with the care and love that we would want for ourselves - or our own pets.  However, what we want and what animals actually need and want are very different!  Having an understanding of the stressors placed on our patients and being able to ‘speak their language’ will enable you to approach and handle in a way that minimises risk to both you and them.

A hospitalised patient may behave and respond in a significantly different manner to a dog or cat in their home environment.  They have been taken away from the security of their territory, their pack, and subjected to an overwhelming onslaught of new sounds, smells and sights.  Imagine being in a stressful situation yourself, now take all the sensory inputs around you and multiply their intensity.  This is how it feels to be a dog or a cat who is uncomfortable in hospital. Our patients can’t say to us, “Nurse Jodi, I’m a bit wary about how you are approaching me, can you slow down please”.  It is up to us to be able to read and interpret the signals they are giving us through their body language, behaviour and vocalisations.

The obvious signs of stress and fear in cats and dogs can be quite easy to identify. 

A hissing and swiping cat is making its opinion very well known to those around it.  The growling, angry dog is also quite easy to understand.  Where things get tricky, and often where people and patients get hurt, is reading and understanding the subtle signs our patients give us.  We often ignore or just don’t understand those subtle signs and that’s when they have to resort to the extremes of hissing, growling and lashing out at us.

Dogs may simply look at us sideways, yawn or lick their lips or even show just a slight change in the way they carry their head. Cats may try and hide in the back of the cage and hunch their body up tightly.  Their pupils might dilate and their fur ‘ripple’ when you touch them.

Taking the time to look, listen and learn about animal behaviour and communication will greatly improves outcomes for both patient comfort and recovery, as well as patient and staff safety.

To learn more, sign up to Crampton Consulting Groups online short courses at or call 07 3621 6005.

If you have any questions regarding animal behaviour, why not ask Jodie in the comments section below?

About Jodi

Jodi  is a Student Support Coordinator with CCG. She is also a Certificate IV qualified Veterinary Nurse, who has been nursing for 14 years. Jodi worked for 9 years in a bird and exotics specialist clinic and worked her way up to the head nurse position. Whilst at this clinic, Jodi took a special interest in feline behaviour and developed her own business consulting with clients on feline behavioural problems.Jodi also spent 3 years working in a mixed animal practice in country NSW, which Jodi feels rounded her Veterinary nursing skills. Birds, exotics, cats, dogs and large animals – you name it, she’s done it! Jodi’s passions are surgery, medicine and behaviour. She has two border collies, two birds, 2 cats, 2 fish and 2 human boys – a real noah’s ark!

Click here to visit the CCG Page in the Vetanswers Business Directory


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