What Happens When A Dog Unglues On the Exam Table

So I had an interesting case this morning. I guess we see it about every 3-4 months. A dog came in who was really nervous. Lots of whites showing in his eyes, ears up and turning sideways like-to-run or panic. Fasst forward 10 minutes and he is on the table for shots or something, it’s really scared. Like, terrified – and suddenly he panics and everything unglues: Poop flying, pee splashing everywhere, anal glands expressing, paddling, rolling and throwing its head around.
That’s when a “this is for the dog” ‘practice philosophy’ comes into play based on experience.
You have to have decided IN ADVANCE that you just don’t “bull through” that – manhandling the dog down and pushing past it with the shots, blood draw or whatever you’re supposed to do.
If you veer off and suggest a tranquilizer on a return visit – it’s the best. If you push through with a stranglehold – you ruin the dog on vet visits and really, any-stranger-handling forever.
At my clinic I do everything in front of the owner unless they prefer otherwise. The reason for that is when I was a kid, we’d take Sara to the vet and he’d take her around in the back. I always felt like, “If what he’s doing is so bad he can’t do it right here, do we even want him doing it?”
I also couldn’t help but wondering (skeptic from birth) whether they were even giving the mythical shots they said they were and for which they invoiced my Dad.
I decided that when I got my own place open – I would let the client see everything (or as little) as they wanted to. Besides surgery ha ha ha.
So the owner saw the reaction his dog had. And I could sense he was disappointed to need another appointment. Maybe even embarrassed by the dog. Shouldn’t have been either.
Here’s where Dr Mason (my mentor) and I differ from other vets: Most vets would just remove the whole situation (and the dog) “to the back” and catch the dog in a muzzle and a choke-hold and “git ‘er done” to the delight of the owner who just saved the time it takes to come back. But the dog would be messed up for good. Much harder to deal with each year. Maybe even dangerous around strangers at the house. Terror.
Terror – I don’t mean scared dogs or even dogs that snap – they don’t panic. They’re just scared. Not terrified.
So we sent him home with some Acepromazine and rescheduled his visit. The dog will arrive in a peaceful frame of mind. When we put him in the room, he’ll get nervous. Between starts, he will start to drift to sleep. We’ll put him on the table and he’ll be upset. Not tense and not freaking out. More “woe is me” and willing it to be over. And then it will be and he will be on the floor again. He’ll go home and have the best 8 hours of the year. Ha ha ha. Like a day-drunk.
Next year, he will get the same sedative, have a similar experience and within another year or two, he won’t be nervous coming in. Getting better and better on his visits- not worse.
If you don’t use me as your vet – by geography, preference or loyalty, just ask your vet not to “push it’ if my dog panics – please break off the perceived attack (from the dog’s viewpoint) and let me sedate him and come back, huh?” Same with groomers. A groomer “who can handle ANY dog” may not be your best bet.
Doc Johnson

Johnson Vet Services 2023