1. What if my patient WON’T eat the food I offer?
Try highly palatable food. Stressed animals only eat foods they find most palatable, and eating palatable food is the most effective and fastest way to lower your patients’ fear, anxiety, and aggression levels (unless medically contraindicated). Clients can inform you of their pet’s favorite treats, or bring them to the appointment. Rejecting favorite foods is a great indicator of significant stress. Be sure to try many different options.
2. What if my patient CAN’T eat?
We do not offer food to animals that cannot eat because of:
a. Impending sedation or specific diagnostic testing (e.g., pre-prandial bile acids).
b. Persistent vomiting, and sometimes diarrhea (although we typically use chicken (baby food) as it is utilized as a bland diet treatment options for these cases yet is often found to be palatable by the patient)
• Animals with diseases and treatment strategies that involve restricted diets can be fed for counter-conditioning purposes, when appropriate care is taken. For example, patients with food allergies typically can be offered the wet/canned version or pieces of their dry diet, or fresh cooked meat that matches the protein source of the diet (e.g., venison, duck). Alternatively, many manufacturers also offer a companion “treat” for their novel protein diets that can be tried.
• Animals with restricted protein or fat needs (ex. kidney disease, liver disease, pancreatitis) can often safely be tempted with something sweet (ex. a mini marshmallow). Some animals will accept a cracker, crust of bread, vegetable or fruit chunk, or nibble of cat grass. Please check with the pet’s owner at each appointment to determine if there are any diet restrictions.
• Mitigate environmental stimulation through as many senses as possible. See Creating a Low Stress Environment for more details.
3. My staff or coworkers complain that if I feed an animal that is being “bad”, I am rewarding that animal for the “bad” behavior?
• The answer is NO, because we are not rewarding something that is under an animal's voluntary control (like a sit). We are changing the “emotional” state about being at a vet hospital and interacting with strange people in a stressful environment. Once the food reduces the fear, there is less motivation for the pet to behave aggressively.
4. How am I supposed to take time to feed a patient I’m examining when I have a million other things to do?
• There are many “hands free” options like smearing peanut butter or canned cheese on exam tables (puppies, small dogs, and cats) or lick boards placed low on walls or cabinets (larger dogs). A technician, assistant, or the owner (if safe to do so) can also feed while a patient is being examined or you can offer treats to patients while you are taking a history from their owner.