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Muzzle Myths

Muzzle Myths

Muzzles: They get a bad rap. Hearing that your dog or cat needs a muzzle is often scary, and you might even feel a little embarrassed. The truth is that muzzles are much more common than you might think and are even Fear Free approved tools!

We want to debunk a few myths about muzzles and explain how they can even help to reduce some of the fear and anxiety your pet may have about the vet.

You think my dog is mean. There is no shame in your pet needing to use a muzzle! We never classify a pet as a “bad dog” or “bad cat” because they require a little extra precaution during an exam, needle pokes, blood draws, or nail trims. We use them to keep our staff safe. Your dog might be sweet as pie in the exam room but turns into a whirling dervish when we try to draw blood. We only use muzzles when they enable us to complete important tasks and treatments.

It’s important to remember that any dog can bite. Pain, fear, or unknown situations can provoke even the gentlest dog to bite. It is a normal behavior response that all dogs and cats have. We can’t ask a dog never to bite, just like we wouldn’t ask you never to yell if you were hurt or scared. Although we can’t ask the rest of the world to understand that your dog really isn’t vicious, we know they aren’t.

Muzzles hurt my dog/cat. We often can use even less restraint than we normally would when pets wear muzzles. Instead of using several people to “pin an animal down,” we are able to lightly restrain them during medical treatments while still keeping everyone safe. We always ensure that we use the best-fitting tool for the job. We’re often able to complete procedures even faster with a muzzle than struggling without one.

Pets can’t breathe with a muzzle on. We use well-fitting muzzles that allow dogs to breathe very clearly and even take some treats. When appropriate, we use special muzzles called “basket muzzles” that create a cage around the dog’s entire muzzle so they can’t bite but are still able to very easily take treats, drink, and even hang their tongue out. We often smear Kong paste or squish soft treats onto sticks or plates to keep the dog entertained and engaged while they’re wearing a basket muzzle. Cats wear a special cone-shaped muzzle that goes over their entire face and has a hole at the end allowing for light and plenty of air to come through.

Pets hate muzzles! If you work with your dog or cat at home, using treats and praise, you can condition them to wearing a muzzle without much trouble. As is the case with any other training tool, pets wearing muzzles often become more docile. We never use it as punishment, and we only leave it on as long as necessary. Many working dogs, such as military or police dogs, are conditioned to wear a muzzle at all times and are only “released” when they may be required to bite on command.

Muzzles aren’t just a tool that we use here at the vet; they are also an important tool for reactive dogs and unfamiliar situations. Dogs that are aggressive with other canines can sometimes slip their collars. If they’re wearing muzzles, no one gets hurt.

If you know that your dog typically requires a muzzle while at the vet or in unfamiliar situations, it is important to do some conditioning at home. That way, your dog will not have a negative response when muzzled. There is a great organization called the “Muzzle Up! Project” that provides dog owners with even more resources and information for your pets. You can also talk to your vet for more suggestions and local resources and trainers.

By Gabrielle Sasse