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Featured News Vets train pets for less stress

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Fri, 7 Apr 2017

Vets train pets for less stress

‘Show me your tail,’ ‘give me a high five’ and ‘put your nose in the muzzle’ are some of the new phrases James Cook University vet students are teaching their animal patients.

Animals often are stressed when they visit the vet, and this has adverse effects on their health and rate of recovery.

JCU’s Dr Janice Lloyd, Senior lecturer in veterinary behaviour, welfare and ethics, says students are learning the techniques as part of a worldwide initiative to produce a low-stress environment for animals who attend a vet clinic.

“The animals are in unfamiliar surroundings, cannot control or predict what will happen to them, and may be in pain. If they’re stressed, they undergo physiological changes such as increased heart rate and release of cortisol. If it continues this can have can have adverse effects on immunity, health and behaviour and delay recovery.”

JCU vet students are taught to reduce stress for their patients through environmental enrichment - toys, quiet, a place to hide - and how to use a conditioning device that emits a ‘click’ sound and which is immediately followed by a treat.

Dr Lloyd said JCU was leading the way with this type of instruction, as stress-reduction techniques were not commonly taught to vet students.

“Dogs and cats learn to associate frightening or painful experiences with the hospital and staff. This can be lessened by training a different association with the use of a clicker and food rewards,” she said.

With the help of the clicker and treats, students teach dogs to: ‘put your nose in the muzzle’, ‘give me a high five’ (to expose the under ‘arm’ area), and ‘show me your tail’ (for taking a temperature). More adventurous types of cats can even be trained to jump onto weighing scales.

Dr Lloyd said the conditioning is rapid - a dog can be trained to put its head into a muzzle in a matter of minutes.

Professor Peter Chenoweth, Head of Veterinary Sciences said the new techniques were a vast improvement on previous methods. “Several staff members would have to hold a struggling dog down to force a muzzle on, no doubt making it more difficult to safely muzzle the dog on future visits,” he said.

Dr Lloyd said there was no reason a vet visit had to be an ordeal for dogs and cats.

“A hippopotamus in a zoo can be taught to place its foot on a ramp to be x-rayed, and tigers can literally be caught by the tail for blood sampling. So there’s no reason our companion animals can’t be taught to engage in ‘fun’ activities that aid in handling and conducting physical examinations.”

Contacts

Dr Janice Lloyd
P: (07) 4781 6054
E: Janice.lloyd@jcu.edu.au