Vetiquette 101: Basics for Pet Safety and Vet Sanity

If you carry your cat in your arms or allow your dog to run freely into the vet’s office, it’s time to review some vetiquette basics.

Use a carrier or leash when you visit the vet. By: Celeste Lindell

Please Have All Cats in Carriers. Kindly Have All Dogs on a Leash.

Isn’t this messaging, brought to you by your caring veterinarian, gentle? Yet some folks still don’t get the idea. It’s time for a class in Vetiquette 101, from the veterinarian’s catbird seat.


Requesting that you arrive at your veterinarian’s office with your cat in a carrier is not because your vet is feeling particularly fascist or crazy about rules. It’s for everyone’s safety, most importantly your cat’s.

Although many cats like or at least tolerate being toted about in your arms for some length of time to be decided by the cat, what happens if the opening of the door or the sight of the Rottweiler in the waiting room spooks Freddie?

The potential hazards are not good: scratches to your face or cornea, a loose cat frantic in the clinic, a tender feline snack for the Rottie. Yikes; these are not pleasant scenarios.

Even if you visit a feline-only practice, many mishaps can happen when your cat is not contained, even without canines around.

“But I Can’t Get Him in a Carrier!”

Tips to help:

  1. Keeping the carrier open with treats in it for a week before the visit helps a great deal.
  2. Shopping around for a carrier that’s easy to use is a life saver. If you can lift a large carrier, it’s easier to get a difficult cat into a bigger carrier.
  3. Commandeering help the day of the visit may be worthwhile. Some cats really are a two-person challenge.

Being as quick and assertive as possible when getting the cat in the carrier is essential. If you’re on your hands and knees with a can of cat food under a bed me0wing “Here, kitty, kitty,” you may need to cancel your vet appointment.

Be bold! Have the carrier open and waiting. Pick up a happy, resting cat with one hand on the scruff and the other hand supporting the abdomen. Place in carrier! I prefer head first. Others do a drop-in approach, but I find you run the risk of the “all feet on deck” phenomenon with the drop-in.

Admission: Some cats are virtually impossible to get into a carrier. Call your vet to discuss these “special” kitties.

  • “But he always poops in the carrier.” We can clean it. Better in the carrier than on the floor of your car.
  • “I only have one carrier and two cats and want to save on a multiple-pet visit.” Borrow a carrier in advance. Most vets have extra carriers.
  • “But he looks so cute in this picnic basket.” He won’t look so cute running across the parking lot onto the highway. Use something sturdy and lockable.
  • “I’ve always put cats in pillow cases.” He may like the pillow case until the Fedex truck starts up in the parking lot, scares the poop out of him, and he claws himself out of the bag, using your body as an escape route.


Bring your dog into the office on a leash.” Common sense, right? Many of you are probably saying to yourself, “Who wouldn’t have their dog on a leash?” You would be surprised.

Here in hippy-dippy nature-loving all-dogs-run-free College Town USA, many people think a leash is a form of canine imprisonment. Puppy Prison! Just like parents who think they have the most talented and gifted children, these owners think they have the most wonderful and mellow dog in the world!

News flash: Coming to the vet is not your ordinary walk in the meadow. Leash her or leave her at home!

Dogs in my waiting room may be happy or worried, timid or gregarious, but they all have a heightened level of anxiety, simply because they are at the vet’s. So even if their owners think their pooch is “perfectly behaved,” Pluto-Perfect’s behavior may be a bit imperfect at the vet’s office.

Is That Testosterone I Smell?

My waiting room was busier than usual. The receptionist had four things going on at once. Patients were coming and going. Jethro, a perfectly sweet male Golden Retriever, was sniffing about while his owner was texting. There was no leash attached to her cell phone. The door opened and in galloped Bean, a very NOT-NEUTERED Labrador.

Jethro sniffed Bean. Bean mounted Jethro. Jethro returned the greeting with a deep bite to Bean’s jugular area. Apparently, Jethro was not in the mood.

Ms. Text-a-lot said, “Oh my God, he’s never done that before.” Perhaps he’s never been in a crowded veterinary office with an intact male bully-dog climbing up his hoo-hah. We ushered the sheepish Jethro into one room and Bean into another.

Hormone levels returned to a reasonable level and the macho mayhem was over. Wounds were treated, and the dogs went home in one piece.

Was Ms. Texting or Mrs. Bully-Bean at fault? Actually, I would be considered at fault. No matter what crazy things occur under the roof of a veterinary hospital — clients not obeying the rules, dogs and cats being animals — the owner is not ultimately responsible. The veterinarian is responsible.

So if a receptionist or a technician or a doctor ever speaks sternly to you about putting a cat in a carrier or getting that dog on a leash, please take heed of the warning.

There are serious consequences if pets fight or get lost at the vet’s office. We’re talking potential injury to your pet and lawsuit territory for your vet.

Bean, the crotch jumping Lab, did suffer a bite wound by the heretofore docile Jethro. His wounds were treated, and the hospital paid the bill. He was fine, thank goodness, but it could have been worse.

Earlier this year, I referred a Beagle with a liver shunt to a highly reputable referral hospital, where he was attacked by a pit bull in the waiting room. The hospital repaired his liver and his major bite wounds.

Retractable Leashes

I hate retractable leashes. In the hands of owners who don’t understand the concept of locking these leashes, they can be serious hazards.

I have seen people looking at their dog’s prescription at the front desk while their dog is at the end of the retractable leash, wrapped around furniture, bothering other pets or pushing into the back of my hospital, eating the hospital kitty food.

If you use a retractable leash, I suggest you walk into your vet’s office with the leash locked at a normal length.

Can You Just Help Me Get My Pet Out of the Car?

This seems like a reasonable request. But if the veterinary staff helps you with a cat that is bouncing off the dashboard of your car, or a dog that is slobbering and clamoring to get out of the vehicle, and that pet becomes injured or escapes, the veterinarian is responsible.

I know of many veterinarians that regretfully decline to help in these situations because of the liability.

I hope these few tips have helped. May all your travels to the vet be as safe and as stress-free as possible.

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.

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