Why Does My Dog Need a Muzzle

vet tech

Why oh why does my dog have to wear a muzzle at the vet’s office? I cringe when the muzzle comes out. If you are a dog parent who has a dog that has faced the dreaded “face trap,” this post is for you.

Time for another installment of Medicine Versus Mom. Every few weeks, we’ll be focusing on a topic and presenting it from a veterinary “medicine” perspective with Rachel Sheppard and the perspective from the dog mom, courtesy yours truly. If you missed our inaugural post, check out What Happens When My Dog Gets Dropped Off at the Vet Here.

Muzzle Mania

Our first Cocker Spaniel had a bevy of health issues throughout her nearly 15 years on earth. I would not trade a moment of her life with me, and she is eternally loved and missed. Because she frequented the vet often, she eventually got sick of being poked, prodded, and in general, fussed at. Brandy Noel was a puppy mill rescue. My goal, as her dog mom, would be to give her the best life possible and to help her overcome any negative and horrible past she faced in her time before me. I acquired her as a puppy, and she was the most innocent, loving little girl. She then turned into Cujo, at times, when at the veterinarian.

Ironically, our vet to this day, Dr. Steven Gloates, never used a muzzle on Brandy. He had a very special way with her and she felt a calmness around him.

cute cocker
Forever missed, Brandy Noel.

What’s With the Muzzle

Some muzzling situations can be avoided. Whew, it feels a lot better to put that out there. Realizing that there are veterinarians, vet techs, and those with a medical background reading this, I mean no disrespect. You definitely need to muzzle a dog if your own personal safety is at risk.

Muzzling Changes a Dog

There is a tendency to over muzzle and thus creating a fearful dog who is unhappy seeing the veterinarian despite all the claps, happy voices, and treat bait offered. Picture a muzzle situation like a dog does: Uh oh, tension time, big man or woman in white coat, picks me or prods me: I must react. Granted, a large majority of dogs do not react with a bite. If a dog bites in other situations outside of a vet’s or groomer’s visit, this is time for a behavioral assessment.

When Should a Dog Wear a Muzzle

Dogs in pain will often bite as a reaction to the pain, so dog parents should have a muzzle handy and know how to effectively and safely use it.

If your dog is in a situation that causes aggression and that situation cannot be avoided.

NEVER use a muzzle to stop barking and/or as a form of punishment.

NEVER muzzle a puppy who is nip playing. There are alternative methods that positive reinforcement behaviorists recommend. Namely, a zero tolerance policy for puppy biting is best. That is, yelp and remove your hand and go away. You took away the play time because puppy biting behavior is unacceptable.

muzzle
Photo from PetSmart

Caution and Warning

Keep in mind that dogs, unlike humans, do NOT perspire with their whole body. They can only cool themselves by panting and by sweating through their paws. A muzzle can inhibit a dog’s ability to sweat if applied incorrectly, so be sure you know how to put a muzzle on AND which type of muzzle to use.

What We Did

I could not stand how our innocent little Cocker Spaniel would bow her head and her eyes looked downward when the muzzle would be applied at the specialist office. I worked hard to have that muzzle go back where it came from.

Realizing Brandy was being taken to the specialists for one reason or another and seeing different doctors, we pinned down WHEN the biting behavior started. One night when she jumped from the bed, a limp resulted. We rushed her to the emergency veterinarian clinic in our area. With an eventual diagnosis of a patellar luxation (kneecap shifted), an emergency vet on call injected our dog with the dosage of prednisone for that of a Rottweiler. He almost killed our dog due to the side effects and dosage amount. He also muzzled Brandy because she yelped in pain at his horrible bedside manner on injecting the needle. I cringe as I write this. I wish I could go back and well, say things not polite to mention here.

That one incident took a very friendly Cocker Spaniel who had no issues at the vet and created a terrified little girl who was snappy when any sort of needles were required. So we worked with each specialist we visited. We explained the situation, and eventually the muzzle was not required.

Instead of a hurried visit where the dog sat on the metal table in the middle of the room, we insisted that the dog be allowed to walk around the room, the doctor would get down at her level and we just talked without having anything done to Brandy. Realizing that a vet’s time is a commodity, this took a little extra effort but nothing that 5 to 10 minutes couldn’t solve.

cocker

Eventually, Brandy no longer required a muzzle. She always was a bit apprehensive at the vet but she was a doll at the groomer and our regular veterinarian never required the use of a muzzle.

I am not anti-muzzle; I am anti over-use of muzzling.

P.S. I pressed charges against the emergency veterinarian who nearly killed our dog. We won in an out-of-court settlement. The settlement barely covered the costs of treating Brandy for the medical treatment she required due to his negligence. He was working at the clinic as a fill in, one time, one night, and his focus was on birds. He never should have been practicing on our dog.

Rachel has her take on usage of a muzzle and you can check out Why Vets Need to Muzzle Your Dog here from the “medicine perspective” on the My Kid Has Paws blog.

QUESTION: Has your dog ever required a muzzle and why? Let us know in the comments below.

Comments

  1. No, we have never needed to use a muzzle, thank goodness. But after seeing the scars up and down the arms of our veterinarian’s assistant, I can understand why it is needed with certain dogs. (especially those dogs who are out of their minds in pain)

    Your little girl was adorable, it’s sad to imagine what that emergency vet did to her.

  2. Shiner has never needed a muzzle, but then again I was always with her. Now, I always tell them that they can muzzle her if they want to. I don’t believe she would bite anyone, but she will growl at strangers and I know how uncomfortable that can make someone. They still don’t muzzle her though. The first clinic I worked at, we didn’t muzzle too much. The 2nd however, was all about the muzzle… I think it had something to do with their large number of bite accidents… namely by 1 or 2 technicians. It was raising their insurance costs. I was never bit by a dog in 5 years, while some technicians would get bit every few weeks at the 2nd clinic I talked about.

  3. What a horrible experience. That vet does not deserve to be practicing! Thankfully, none of my dogs have been muzzled, but while working at a veterinary hospital, I saw both sides. Muzzling for safety when needed, and muzzling when it was unnecessary and only caused more stress for the dog. There was one instance when I dog I was caring for in boarding was ill and needed to see a doctor. I was the only staff member at the clinic who could handle the dog. He had had a history of aggression and was getting worse. So, I took him to the exam room of the only doctor available at the time and he HATED this particular doctor. As soon as he caught his scent outside of the room and heard his voice, he was enraged. My heart broke for him because I could see not only the fear, but the fact that he was ill, and my instinct was to protect him. The doctor called in two techs to help. The dog wouldn’t let anyone get near him. I tried leaving the room thinking that would help. It didn’t. The doctor asked me to muzzle the dog for the staff’s safety. I hated doing it. Being the ONE person he trusted there, I didn’t want to break that trust. Amazingly, he stood still and quiet for me and didn’t balk at me muzzling him. I stayed by his side and rubbed his neck and shoulder during the exam. He wasn’t happy, but as long as I was there, he didn’t flail around and freak out. After it was over and I got him settled in his suite, I went to the bathroom and cried. I’m a wimp. I knew then I couldn’t be a tech and have so much respect for them.

    • WOW, Lisa, that touched my heart so very much. TY for sharing and ty for being so loving and kind to the dog. I know I could never be hands on with animals in a medical setting as much as there was a time I wanted to. I’d end up a nervous wreck crying over them.

      • (I’m sorry I rambled so much in my previous comment) I don’t know how vets and techs do it. I was only there for 2 years and was a blubbering mess many, many times. I’m in a doggy daycare now and that’s where I need to be. That particular dog ended up being put to sleep a few months later due to a brain tumor that was causing his aggression. It was horrible and the day of his euthanasia was the day I decided I was finished.
        The doctor that traumatized your Brandy should never have tried to treat a dog if his specialty was birds! That’s nuts! I’m glad you won your lawsuit, but so sorry for what Brandy went through.

        • Oh gosh don’t worry about it – I love reading and that you shared your experience means so much. I could never be a vet tech and spent years trying to “find myself” and where I fit in the pet space. I finally have a home and have so much respect for the good vet techs and vets out there who are on the front lines every day.

          TY for your kind words, Lisa 😉

  4. I guess it would depend on the vet and what she/he has experienced in the past.
    But, I would imagine that it would be rare for a Cocker Spaniel to need muzzling.
    Brandy sounds so cute.

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