6 steps to better behavior

If your patients are known for their devilish behavior, find out how you can help your practice step up behavior services to change that
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Oct 01, 2012

Miss Manners never worked in a veterinary practice. And if she had, it's likely she would have made the common mistake of misunderstanding the importance of behavior. You probably already know instinctively that pets that behave better are easier to examine and treat. They're also more likely to have forever homes—after all, behavior problems are a common reason pet owners relinquish their pets and the No. 1 reason pets are euthanized in the United States.


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Boosting your behavior program also offers another important reward for team members: It's an area where you can make a difference, both by helping patients and by improving the practice's revenue. Consider these six steps that will put you and your boss on the path to a better approach to behavior.

1. Enrich your practice to comfort the patient's unique senses. For an animal with extensive sensory perception but a limited understanding of the associated scents, sounds, and touch of veterinary medicine, a veterinary visit can be a terrifying experience. Luckily there are many options to mitigate that potential trauma. Consider these ideas:

  • Mask visual stimuli by organizing the lobby to keep animals from directly observing each other. Use chair patterns to manage traffic flow and decorative room dividers, plants, magazine stands, or product displays to block the line of sight.
  • Use the patient's carrier as a hide box during the exam and trade it for a smaller cardboard hide box during hospitalization. Towels can also provide visual cover. You can also use commercially available products, such as those that offer a veil of material that forms a hood, attaches to the collar for stability, and covers the eyes to allow filtered vision. It does not blind the pet completely but limits visual stimuli, lessening stress.
  • Avoid offending sensitive noses. Refrain from placing animals on wet, odiferous, disinfectant-covered surfaces and take care to wipe or rinse alcohol from their fur after procedures.
  • Apply calming, species-specific pheromones to fabrics by spray and with room diffusers in patient areas.
  • Provide traction control. Apply washable rubber mats to prevent inciting a panic response on slippery surfaces such as scales, tables, and cage floors.
  • Use manufactured reusable hollow rubber food toys or disposable paper plates or pretzels to offer tasty treats as distractions during examination and treatment. Continue to use the food-stuffed toys as boredom busters during hospitalization.
  • Cushion patients in blankets or towels to provide comfort during handling and extended stays.


This dog receives cheese during a nail trim as a distraction and also to create a positive emotional association with nail trims.
Enriching the patient's environment can also increase staff morale and improve client appreciation—after all, no one likes to see a patient in distress. A few tweaks to the facility's interior can promote wellness and lessen patient stress, amplifying your clinic's quality of care while effectively surpassing the competition.