Veterinary Waiting Room Etiquette


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As a pet owner, dog trainer, and part-time veterinary assistant, I have spent a fair amount of time in the waiting room at the veterinarian’s office. While in the waiting room, I have seen some close calls between dogs which were scary for someone who is fluent in dog body language. In many of these incidents, I am still shocked there was no injury to a person or another pet in the waiting room. The following etiquette tips come from my personal experiences, the experiences of my dog training clients, and fellow Vet Med professionals. I truly believe if more people would follow these recommendations many of the issues we see in veterinary waiting rooms will cease to exist and it will produce a less stressful environment.

  • Give your dog a chance to potty before coming into the building. Even if you’re running late, we (veterinary staff) understand the importance of letting your dog have the chance to potty before coming in, unless your dog is there because of a potential urinary tract infection, but that is not terribly common.
    • First, the veterinarian’s office can be stressful for many pets, if your dog is also “holding it” the entire time you’re in the office that just adds to the stress.
    • Second, the waiting room is a fairly busy place, so it can be tough to keep other pets and people clear of an accident before we get it cleaned up. When pets have accidents in waiting rooms, or exam rooms, it often takes the owner’s attention off their dog. This lapse in attention could create a dangerous situation. For most owners, when their pet has an accident their stress increases, which is then felt by the dog.
  • DO NOT use a FLEXI/RETRACTABLE LEAD at the veterinarian’s office!!!! Please bring your dog in on a fixed length leash. There is no need for your dog to be more than 5-6 feet away from their owner in the vet’s office. These leashes are inherently dangerous and even more so when there are other pets and people around. I have personally witnessed a dog be at the end of the flexi lead before the owner was even in the building. You have NO IDEA what other animals might be in the waiting room. It would be tragic for a dog to be injured by another dog because the owner hasn’t even made it completely in the building.
      • Check out this blog for more reasons why you should not use a flexi/retractable leash in the veterinarian’s office.
  • If the waiting room is divided into a “Cat Side” and a “Dog Side” please wait on the correct side. If you have both a cat and a dog that will be seen at the same time, you should wait on the dog side.
    • The reason waiting rooms maybe divided into two sides is to give cats who do not live with dogs a less stressful experience. Cats see dogs as predators, so if a cat is not used to being around dogs they become anxious and stressed when sharing the same space as a dog. For many cats, the entire process of going to the veterinarian is stressful. Let’s try to help our feline friends by being respectful of their space and safety.
    • Please do not allow your dog to sniff or get close to cat carriers. Regardless of the animal in the carrier, just being confined in a carrier can be very stressful.
    • If the waiting room is divided, there are typically photos of cats and hidey-holes on the cat side. The cat side might also be a physically smaller space than the dog area. If you’re not sure if there are separate areas it never hurts to ask a receptionist.
  • Do not let your dog greet or sniff other dogs, or puppies, in the waiting room. Yes, your dog might have a blast at the veterinarian’s office and might be very friendly, but other dogs may not have the same gleeful outlook. It can be difficult to tell which dogs are at the vet because they are sick or injured and which ones are healthy. Sick, injured, and stressed dogs can display unpredictable behavior, so it is safer to keep your dog close to you and not allow visiting in the waiting room.
    • Give space! If your dog is a social butterfly and tries to greet other animals, sit yourself where there is less traffic and use some treats to keep your dog’s attention on you.
  • Leave your kids at home, if possible. If you have to bring your children please be sure to tell them they may not pet or interact with the animals in the waiting room. Again, a normally friendly pet may not be when stressed, sick, or injured. Some animals do not have children at home so their presence may exacerbate a pet’s anxiety. Another reason to leave your kids at home is because it is already tough enough managing your pet, add children on top of it…
  • It’s okay to wait in the car! If you have a vocal, uncontrollable, aggressive, or overly-nervous dog please leave you dog in the car. When you check-in (calling or coming into the office) let the receptionists know that you will be waiting outside with your dog, either in the car or in the parking lot. This is not an unusual request! We would actually prefer this because it reduces stress for everybody involved (directly and indirectly).
    • On the flip side, it is perfectly acceptable to let the receptionist know that you are going to take your dog out to your car and then come back in to pay.

What have you seen in veterinarian waiting rooms? What are other ways we can make veterinarian waiting rooms safer for all of our pets? Let us know in the comments!

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