The Importance of Keeping Your Pet on a Leash or In a Carrier

One of the most basic things we can all do for the safety of our pets and others when we enter the veterinary environment is to keep our dog on a leash or our cat, little dog, or pocket pet in a carrier. This reduces the risk of the animal escaping, getting hurt, or hurting others.

If your pet is coming in for a rabies vaccine because he’s past due and he escapes and he bites a person, this will be problematic for you, your dog, the clinic, and of course the person who was bitten. Every state’s rules regarding rabies may be variable, but in Texas, the state is not going to care that you were on your way to update your pet’s rabies vaccine, they will make you put your pet in rabies quarantine. This is just one reason we should all keep a good handle on our pets and keep them secure, and a reason that is backed by state law.

Occasionally during my reception shifts, I’ve had pet parents place their tiny dog loose on the reception counter (which is high off the ground) and the dog steps backward and falls off, sending the pet parent and staff into a figurative heart attack. This likely would not have happened if their little dog was in a carrier…

There have been cats that have escaped their pet parent’s arms in transit from the car to the clinic and ran away – thankfully in the case I’m thinking of the cat stayed hidden under their parent’s car and he was able to get his fur baby. And if you do have your cat in a carrier – which or course is important in itself – you may consider the differences between hard shell vs soft shell carriers. Soft shell carriers are cute and may be easier for the pet parent, which is fine. But let me just throw out some information to keep in consideration. In a car accident, a hard shell carrier would likely better protect your cat than a soft shell carrier. There is no reinforcement in a soft shell carrier pushing back against bending metal, bursting air bags, breaking glass, or etc; the fabric walls are all that would stand between your cat and a crushed car. With a hard shell carrier, it would be at least a little more difficult for the outside dangers to pierce through or re-shape the carrier. And in situations where you have a fractious cat who has to be dropped off at the clinic, a soft shell carrier is typically a difficult obstacle because these soft shell carriers typically do not have top openings that make it easy for the staff to reach in with a thick blanket to retrieve the cat. There of course could be exceptions to this, there are indeed so many different types of carriers out there. I only speak from my own experience and my veterinarians’ usual recommendations.

“But my pet is well trained.”

That may be so, but, there are extenuating circumstances where it would not necessarily matter how well trained a pet is, things can still happen, and we don’t want that thing – whatever bizarre or not-so-bizarre turn of events which would lead to trouble – to happen to you.

With multiple dogs barking, regular noisy sounds of the hospital going on (and if you’ve ever been to the clinic while our internal vacuum system is going on, you may have thought you heard the sound of a distressed elephant), clients and staff members going every which way in the clinic, it can make an animal stressed/terrified, overly-excited, or on defense/protect mode. There have been times a pet parent has let their dog loose to run about the lobby and walk right up to another dog to greet because they are very friendly, but the dog they walked up to may not be. The pet parent who let their dog loose may say something along the lines of “oh they’re friendly; they just love meeting new people”. That may be so, but this is still not acceptable in our clinic. What if someone opens the front door while that client’s friendly dog is loose? They can run right out the front door and into the busy street. What if that loose dog runs right up to an aggressive dog and gets attacked? What if that loose dog runs up to a cat carrier as a cat parent is entering the building and scares the living daylights out of the cat, resulting in the likely possibility that the cat will be too scared to allow us to do an exam and get lab samples, making the experience unpleasant for the cat and its parent?

If a pet parent lets their dog loose, let us say a large dog who is unpredictable around other dogs, and this said dog takes off and attacks another dog or pet parent sitting in the lobby, how is this fear-free or remotely safe? We are an AAHA accredited hospital that takes great measures to make it a fear-free environment for all involved, especially the pets. This situation of a pet parent letting their unpredictable dog loose should never happen. Our clinic is a professional, family-oriented, welcoming safe place – we do not want dog fights, animal injury or injury to the pet parent to happen in or around our building.

For the safety of your pet, other clients and their pets, and our staff, we ask that you keep your pet on a leash or in its carrier during transit from your car until you get into the exam room and the assistant or nurse closes the door.

A side note about those retractable leashes…you know the ones. The hard plastic handled kind that’s supposed to let you lock the length of the leash or extend it however you want, and it clasps onto the dog’s collar? Those are infamous around here. I will tell you a little known secret about those retractable leashes your vet clinic won’t tell you. We don’t actually like those leashes… Sometimes the mechanism that is supposed to lock them does not work, sometimes the pet parent does not even have them locked when they come into the lobby and the dog runs as far as he wants (often tangling his pet parent in the process), it’s difficult to get a grip on the handle, they’re not very comfortable to grasp and it is easy to slip out of one’s hand if the dog pulls hard enough, it’s often not very practical in a clinical setting, and if the dog pulls so hard he snaps the connection – or slips out of his collar because it is not properly fitted – then there is nothing keeping that dog at your side and he will run off. Following the collar, often dog collars are fitted too loose, so we do see dogs slip right out of them. And I know many pet parents like these retractable leashes. That’s perfectly fine. They seem to be popular because I see them everywhere. But an important part of keeping your dog on a leash, is making sure you have a secure hold of your dog, and that his collar is properly fitted so he can’t slip out of it. Same goes for harnesses that are too loose. So yes, usually your vet clinic does not look lovingly at these retractable leashes. We prefer slip leads. You’ve seen them, they’re the blue leashes that are hanging next to the dog entrance to the clinic. They’re designed so if the dog does pull, the leash is still connected to him. There are circumstances where we have a dog who cannot have anything around his neck due to trachea issues, breathing issues, back issues, neck issues. But a properly fitted harness, hopefully connected to a regular leash, works just fine for securing the pup.

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