Written and Photos by Colleen S. Koch, DVM, DACVB
Disclaimer: if a dog needs to be muzzled, it should be sedated. Just because we can do something does not mean we should; it is important to consider the long-term impact of the interaction on the pet. The owner should be encouraged to desensitize their dog to wearing a basket type muzzle.
Applying a muzzle can be necessary for some patients’ procedures to keep the handlers safe. The ability to apply a muzzle quickly and securely without increasing the stress and anxiety of the patient is critical.
Most veterinary clinics use cloth sleeve type muzzles. They are not recommended or intended for prolonged procedures. The snug fit prevents the patient from panting, which can increase the patient’s fear and anxiety. Basket-type muzzles should always be the first choice. They allow the patient to pant (which helps reduce their anxiety), eat, drink, and vomit.
If your clinic has not converted to the use of basket muzzles or are not fluent applying basket muzzles quickly in fearful dogs, consider using these tips to reduce your patient’s anxiety when applying a cloth muzzle. Please note, if a patient requires muzzling, the owner should be sent home with a basket type muzzle and instructions for desensitization and counter conditioning to facilitate future veterinary visits.
Use a Styrofoam or paper cup with a treat stuck to the bottom so the dog must stick its nose into the cup.
The cup should be short enough the dog is able to eat the treats at the bottom. If the dog has a short snout, you can cut the top edge of the cup so the dog’s tongue can reach the treats.
Feed the dog treats in the cup; repeat several times.
The muzzle will be slipped inside the cup with the edges of the muzzle hanging over the edge of the cup (see pictures below). The muzzle is not applied to the dog yet.
The current treat, and previous offers of treats in the cup, should encourage the dog to readily stick their nose in the cup with the muzzle nested inside. Repeat this step 2-3 times to encourage the dog to quickly put their nose in the cup with the muzzle.
As long as the dog is distracted by the treats, continue to attach the strap. If the dog finishes the treats before the muzzle is applied try to anticipate and remove the muzzle and cup before the dog is finished with the treats.
If at any time the dog struggles or backs away, stop and go back to the previous step.
Once the muzzle straps are attached, remove the cup and continue to feed treats while the dog is wearing the muzzle. The use of a tongue depressor, mixing spoon, or metal bowl may be used to keep hands away from the mouth if the patient is grabbing treats hard with their teeth.
While the dog is distracted eating the treats, unfasten the muzzle.
- Have several cups ready with the dog’s favorite treats, enabling you to move through the process quickly and easily.
- Styrofoam and paper cups can have diluted chicken broth frozen in them to facilitate muzzle application prior to an injection and or surgery.
- Deep stainless-steel bowls can be used instead of cups for more aggressive dogs and or those with larger snouts.