Dr. David Steele recently sat for an interview with ABC News 4 Lowcountry Live to discuss Low Stress Handling — a new technique that is breaking ground in the veterinary industry thanks to the widely respected animal behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin. Both Drs. David & Leslie Steele are big advocates of this technique, and have trained their staff in low stress restraint and handling to help ensure their patients have a calm and peaceful veterinary experience.
Here, Dr. Steele explains this new method and why it is so important to both you and your pet:
What is low stress handling?
Essentially, low stress handling is an approach to working with animals with their perspective central to your method. When I was trained, as many of my colleagues continue to be trained today, we approached our interactions with our patients in a very human centric mind-set. What I mean is that we don’t consider the emotional state of the pet or the effect of our actions upon the pet’s emotional state. Don’t get me wrong, the veterinary community is made up of very compassionate people; focused on the welfare and well-being of animals, but veterinary care was and, in many cases, continues to be centered on accomplishing a task or therapy despite the patient’s resistance or fear, all ultimately for the pet’s better health. The problem is that the end result is medically healthier pet, but behaviorally and emotionally worse. Low stress handling is an approach in which we engage the patient, we get them to be active participants in their care, and we work to gain their trust.
Why is this important to me as a pet owner?
I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard a client tell me what an ordeal it was to get their pet in to the clinic. Let’s face it – it is not going to be pleasant going to the doctor. In many cases you are there when you don’t feel well, you’re uncomfortable at the least, and then there are procedures such as needle sticks, awkward positioning or restraint, palpation and probing, and so on.
I don’t like going to the doctor any more than you, but at least I go willingly and of my own volition. My patients don’t drive themselves up to the office and get an annual wellness checkup and lab work because they know that it is best for them. It saddens us to know that many of our patients fear coming to see us. We certainly didn’t get into this link of work to hurt or scare pets any more than a pediatrician or dentist did. Imagine that as a result of all the positive interactions your pet experienced during the puppy/kitten hood visits, resulted in a pet that is happy and comfortable with riding in the car or carrier and is relaxed and comfortable while we help take care of them. That is our dream and should be yours as well.
What is an example of low stress handling?
Ok, let’s say we have a patient who we need to collect a blood sample from for testing. Traditionally, we would have one and sometimes two technicians restrain the patient so that they would not move while another technician or doctor collected the blood sample. Some patients sit nicely and are comfortable, others freeze with fear (we usually praise this behavior)while we do it, while others may “go down fighting”. Now let’s see what low stress handling does. We do it all the time. Think about teaching your pet to shake. Our goal is to perform the sample collection, but with only one technician. We can teach our pet to sit and then give us their leg for us to hold while drawing blood. We can work with them to show we are trustworthy, reliable, and positive force in their life. We’re the good guys!
I know it seems far-fetched, but it can work. Domesticated animals have been selected for over hundreds of years to be human centric and understand much of our communication. They understand us and can learn to do what we ask of them. It’s just a matter of communication. Zoos are doing low stress handling all over the world. Rather than tranquilizing a lion or dolphin, they use training techniques to get the lion to willingly give his tail through a fence in order for the medical staff to draw blood. Animal handlers have taught dolphins to swim up with their bellies exposed so they can perform ultrasound examinations. It can be done.
What are some tips pet owners can use to help make going to the veterinary office easier?
First of all, don’t wait until the appointment time to get them into a carrier or put them into the car for the first time. For cats, I recommend leaving the carrier out all the time as a hiding place at home. Put nice bedding and an occasional treat inside to encourage exploration. Also, it is helpful to use Feliway, a pheromone spray that helps lessen stress and anxiety for cats.
For dogs, I recommend taking them in the car regularly and even come to the office for “happy visits”. I encourage bringing dogs in whenever they can so they can get treats and love from our staff. We’re teaching them that sometimes when they come – nothing bad happens and they get to play and have treats. What an awesome visit!
Dr. Steele is available for behavior consultations. You can fill out a Behavior Questionnaire by clicking here.
Call Advanced Animal Care of Mt. Pleasant to schedule an appointment at 843-884-9838. Our veterinarians will create a behavior modification plan specific to your pets needs!