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April issue /2022
What is the importance of working with positive reinforcement in veterinary medicine?
Visiting the vet can be a very stressful moment for our furry friends. All the smells, strange people and handling can really put them in a state of high alert and stress.
Since our patients are not able to express what they feel and in order to make an accurate diagnosis, it is fundamental that we know how to assess the animal's behavior, as well as how to handle them, so we can carry out the physical examination and complementary diagnostic tests, among others, in order to obtain as much information as possible.
To maximize the collaboration of the animal and minimize the stress, anxiety and fear felt, we leave here different suggestions on how to increase the welfare of patients in the consultation room, how to create a warm and peaceful environment, and how to improve the relationship of the animal with the veterinarian, making the trip to the veterinary clinic pleasant, fun and efficient!
We usually say that a good way to win any heart is through the stomach, and in animals this is no different. In fact, all animals love a sweet or snack as a treat.
A delicious snack increases the trust and bond they establish with us. This way the veterinary clinic and its staff become associated with a place full of delicious things.
There is already on the market a range of snacks suitable for any animal and its pathology (allergy, diabetes, obesity, etc.), with a diversity of flavors that meet all the demands.
In the consultation room can also be used wet food as a positive reinforcement. In baby kittens it works very well to use canned tuna water as a way of positively reinforcing them.
According to Rodan et al., 2011, this simple gesture in addition to being an excellent stress reducer, decreases the amount of sedation and tranquilizers administered. A correct measurement of body temperature or an accurate diagnosis, are some of the advantages associated with this gesture that is so simple and easy to adopt.
Beware of shy, suspicious and capricious patients, who are unlikely to be won over in this way.
Pheromones: the great ally of animal welfare and the veterinarian's best friend
Peter Karlson and Martin Luscher, the two names associated with these chemical components so powerful and with so many valences. Nowadays, pheromones are often used by guardians and veterinary professionals in the most diverse situations, as it gives animals the feeling of social belonging, that they are in a familiar and welcoming environment. This has a calming and tranquilizing effect on animals, reducing stress.
Feline and canine pheromones are used to calm animals in stressful situations, correct unwanted behavior, reduce separation anxiety, improve the relationship between cohabiting animals, among other applications.
In the veterinary clinic, pheromone sprays should be used as a "cheap perfume", in order to guarantee their effectiveness. The sprays must be used in the clothes of all the veterinary team and also in the blankets used for transport, restraint and hospitalization of the animals. The diffusers should be placed in the consulting and in the hospitalization rooms, respecting the dimensions of the room per diffuser.
This way, we will guarantee a cozy, familiar and calm environment for all the animals that visit the veterinary clinic.
Behavioral therapy - animal or guardian?
Animals are, in most cases, a reflection of their guardians. If a tutor is too impatient, nervous, anxious, their animals tend to be too. We are not only veterinarians, but also psychologists, therapists and psychiatrists.
In order to guarantee our mental health, it is crucial in these situations to advise the guardians to consult a specialized veterinarian in the behavior field, who is more apt and prepared to deal with these situations. The great majority of the guardians do not accept or have difficulty in accepting the fact that their pets are true "sponges" of the environment that surrounds them, and that many times the diseases and/or the behavioral changes they present only reflect the behavior of the guardians.
If it is not possible to have a specialized behavioral consultation, you can always advise guardians to seek the advice of a professional trainer specialized in behavioral disorders.
Low stress handling and restraint techniques
Sophia Yin was a veterinary surgeon who pioneered "low stress" behavioral and management techniques for pets. Her work was extraordinary and revolutionary. It is essential that we keep alive the memory of this wonderful colleague of ours, honoring and applying the techniques that she left us, as her legacy. I advise all veterinarian colleagues to read her book "Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modifications of Dogs & Cats".
What we have learned from his book is that feline patients have zero tolerance and are "one-time learners". You only have to fail once, and especially if it's the first time they visit you, to be immediately blacklisted as a "target to kill". Cats see us as predators, and the simple fact that we touch them with our hands is enough for them to think they will die, and they will do everything to survive (biting, scratching, etc.). That is why with cats, the use of blankets or pillowcases are essential for their "low-stress" handling.
Whereas with our canine patients, what counts is always the end of the consultation. If the end is good, everything bad that happened during the consultation will be quickly forgotten. With dogs, the use of positive reinforcement through snacks and cuddles during consultations, the way we approach them, being patient with them and giving them time to get used to us, will make the appointments much more efficient.
What we advise is to always make a positive first appointment, without vaccination, without restraint, just a careful handling, so that this first contact is more of a " game" than a visit to the veterinarian.
Only use positive reinforcement, love, affection and attention, so that the animals feel that the veterinary clinic is a great place.