Q: Help! Our dog Heidi just bit her veterinarian. I apologized profusely, but I still feel terrible. My husband also worries that we might be liable for any damage done. Should I call and find out how she’s doing? Should I offer to pay for any healthcare expenses? What’s customary in these cases?
A: It’s inevitable. No matter how safe we may feel in our everyday working lives, veterinary workers are never immune to the reality of bite wounds. We risk them every time we step into the exam room.
We know this. We’ve learned this the hard way, after many, many bites. We know that animals, much though we may love and treat them as family members, are animals. As such, we have to expect that they’ll sometimes use their teeth and claws to defend themselves from an interaction they probably perceive as frighteningly intrusive.
We also know that pet owners like you are likely to be emotionally affected by any adverse interaction between your pet and her veterinarian. But here’s the honest truth about these situations:
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• It’s not your pet’s fault. As I mentioned above, animals will be animals, and fear is a common cause for aggression in pets.
• It’s not your fault, either. A bite in the exam room doesn’t mean you’re a bad “pet parent.” All it usually means is that she’s scared and that she just might benefit from some additional socialization. Ask your veterinarian if you should consider seeing a credentialed dog behavior professional.
• Don’t sweat the legal stuff. Pet owners have no legal liability in cases like these. The practice is responsible for any pet-related violence that occurs on our premises. We carry insurance for exactly these purposes. In fact, Worker’s Comp has probably taken care of your vet’s expenses by now.
In other words, don’t feel guilty and don’t worry unduly. Your veterinarian almost certainly harbors no ill will toward you or Heidi. But if you’re still worried about what’s customary in cases like these, consider how you might behave if a friend, family member or co-worker found themselves at the losing end of a sharp set of teeth. A call, a get well card or maybe even a bunch of flowers will convey your feelings better than almost anything else.
Dr. Patty Khuly practices at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami and blogs at www.drpattykhuly.com.