Tips for Handling Small Dogs

Small dogs present their own list of problems when it comes to restraining them safely. Technician Assistant at DoveLewis, Leilani Baker, draws from her years of experience working with and restraining these small dogs to share her tips of handling them safely.

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Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of the veterinary staff as when facing a snarling Chihuahua in the lobby. I know many of us would rather work with a large guard breed than a tiny ferocious one. However, these small dogs are very popular, so many of them come into our hospital daily. Here are tips on how to make the visit safe for vets, techs and assistants, as well as the tiny canine patients themselves.

If immediate treatment isn’t necessary, take the time to get to know the patient if it’s not aggressive. Crouch at its level, face your body sideways, don’t stare directly and speak in a friendly and calm tone. Let the dog approach you instead of going to it. When it’s time to take it for treatment, have its owner walk with you to get the dog restraint with towel

Aggressive dogs can be covered with a thick towel or blanket and then picked up gently but securely since they can be quite wiggly. Place them on a firm surface, expose their head if they are snapping, and have another person put an Elizabethan collar on while you stop the head from swinging. 

The collar must extend long enough past the dog’s muzzle to avoid the applier’s fingers from being bitten. Elizabethan collars are sometimes better than muzzles because they allow the dog to breathe comfortably, are harder for a dog to pull off and still allow us to visualize the mucous membranes. They are also easier to place on a dog that is muzzle savvy. Another option is using a vinyl cat muzzle that covers the whole head. These muzzles do a great job of providing an open airway while covering the patient’s eyes. This often calms them since they can’t see our hands coming at them.Dog with cat muzzle on

Many little dogs can be fine at the start of the exam but will bite if they become uncomfortable with a certain procedure or experience minor discomfort. There is nothing wrong with using a muzzle from the start with these dogs. Oftentimes the muzzle will keep the dog a little calmer and help ensure handler safety. 

Sometimes holding a small dog gently but firmly will suffice. Do not scruff small dogs since they are not calmed by this technique and often become more agitated. Simply restraining them in your arms allows many procedures to be done by the technician or veterinarian. When doing so, keep their muzzles away from human faces to avoid being bitten. Also ensure that their airway remains clear since many small dogs have collapsing tracheas and some of them are brachycephalic. 

Brachycephalic dogs need special consideration because for them, breathing during regular activity often requires effort. When they are stressed, such as during a vet visit, breathing becomes even more difficult--they can actually become cyanotic and collapse. Muzzles are often impossible to use on these breeds, because some of them (like a pug) often have no “muzzle” to place anything on. For these dogs you can roll a towel lengthwise and place it around their neck. Just the extra material on their short neck stops them from whirling around and biting, but they are still able to breathe. Go slowly with stressed brachycephalic dogs and give them a chance to catch their breath between treatments. 

With small dogs, minimum restraint is better than too much. These little mites will often struggle to the point of hurting themselves, or to the point of collapse. If they are becoming too agitated take a break and give the dog a chance to calm down. Ask the veterinarian if pharmacological restraint can be used. See if someone else can switch with you because even excellent handlers need a break too.

Hopefully these tips will make your next canine mighty mite treatment go smoothly!

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