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Best Practices for Animal Restraint as a Veterinary Assistant

Proper handling of animals—including restraint—is part of a veterinary assistant’s job responsibilities, and is an essential skill for vet techs and veterinarians to effectively provide care. At first, restraining animals may seem simple, but proper animal handling and restraint go far beyond just holding the animal down. In fact, it can be one of the most challenging yet underappreciated parts of animal care. If the animal is anxious and resists, veterinarians may find it hard to administer medications or carry out necessary procedures. This is particularly problematic when the animal needs emergency care. 

Medications for sedating or tranquilizing animals are reserved for use in absolutely necessary instances since they can cause undesirable side effects that may risk the animal’s health and safety. When sedation isn’t ideal, proper animal restraint may be the best solution. 

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How to Handle Animals (And Why You Should Do It Properly)

Animals may react unpredictably to veterinary treatment and may be triggered by the equipment, staff, strange smells, and unfamiliar environment. They may display anxious or defensive aggression because they feel threatened. Handling animals appropriately is crucial to ensure that neither the animals nor the handlers suffer injuries. Data from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) shows that about three-quarters of compensation claims are from animal attacks. Using safe procedures and correct techniques can help prevent such incidents. Here are a few tips:

Know the Different Types of Animal Behavior

Before approaching the animal, take a moment to observe how they’re acting. Notice their body language and see how the animal interacts with other animals, the staff, the owner, and the environment. This will give you an idea of how to approach and handle them for the procedure. In general, animal behavior can be categorized in three ways: 

Friendly Animals: These animals seem relaxed. They stand, sit, or lie comfortably. They don’t show any aggression when touched. Still, it’s best to approach them cautiously since their behavior can change suddenly. 

Anxious Animals: These animals feel nervous, or even threatened. Their stance is stiff and their ears often lie flat. Some dogs and cats tremble or hold their tails low or between their legs. These animals tend to shift to aggressive behavior quickly.  Try to be calm and reassuring when approaching them. 

Aggressive Animals: These animals immediately show you that they don’t like the situation. Aside from having a stiff and defensive stance, they may also bare their teeth, snap, and hiss or growl. When you have an aggressive animal, it’s best to prepare the proper restraint equipment. 

Have the Proper Restraint Equipment

According to the AVMA, animal restraint “should provide the least restraint required to allow the specific procedure(s) to be performed properly.” The recommendation also includes applying restraint that reduces the animal’s fear, pain, suffering, and stress while ensuring that the staff and animal are not harmed during the process. 

Here are some examples of animal restraint equipment that you should learn how to use for your practice: 

  • Muzzles: These are often used for dogs. You should first assess the animal to know what muzzle type and size would be needed. 
  • Leads or graspers: These are useful when you can’t predict the animal’s behavior. Some people prefer using them in pairs for additional control.
  • Nets: Nets are the most common choice for smaller animals. Ensure that the size and strength are adequate to avoid injuries to the animal. 
  • Extension poles: These lightweight poles give you additional reach when restraining an animal. Often, they are used in tandem with nets and graspers when the animal in question is being handled from a distance. 
  • Towels and blankets: Some animals may need their eyes or head covered to help calm them down. Towels and blankets can also help control smaller animals, such as rabbits, lambs, and foxes. 
  • Halters: This animal restraint can help control bigger animals. This is the restraint of choice for livestock animals, such as sheep, goats, horses, and cows. 

Understand Various Techniques for Animal Handling

There are a few different ways to restrain or control an animal in your care, each appropriate under different circumstances—but the important thing is to always show kindness and respect. 

Physical restraint means holding the animal’s body still with direct contact, often using the tools listed above. 

Environmental restraint involves managing the animal’s environment to limit mobility. This can be done using kennels, cages, and traps. 

Chemical restraint is the use of medications to inhibit the animal’s movement. These are often used in veterinary medicine to immobilize animals to carry out major procedures, such as surgery, relocation, ear-tagging, bio-measurement, or microchipping. 

On top of having a solid understanding of animal restraint, you should also apply proper handling techniques, including: 

  • Using a low voice when approaching the animal
  • Refraining from approaching the animal from behind
  • Handling them gently, with careful attention to supporting the neck and rump

For personal protection, handlers should be mindful of claws and teeth. Use of proper protective equipment, such as gloves, shoes, and a face shield should also be practiced. 

Get Appropriate Education and Training on Animal Restraint

Whether you’re restraining domestic or wild animals, ensure that you have adequate training in animal handling and behavior. Animal behavior is complex and undertaking training to understand the nuances of different species’ behaviors can dramatically improve safety and equip you to reduce animal distress and respond to unpredictable animal behavior. Veterinary assistants must be especially well-trained to ensure animals are properly taken care of and that no harm comes to them, the handlers, or other animals in the vicinity.

You can learn the best practices for animal restraint and handling as part of HCI College’s veterinary assistant program. Learn more about the program by contacting the admissions office or enroll today online!

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