Adapt animals to handling to provide better care!

In order to provide care to animals in need, some handling is usually required. As a vet who has worked in zoo and wildlife medicine, these become serious challenges when an animal refuses care. Our "domestic" animals are not always that much different!

Sometimes the ability to provide care to animals is hampered by their fears and distrust of our handling. They don't know why we need to get blood or give them fluids under the skin. They see no benefit whatsoever in being poked with a needle! They also don't get why we are trying to brush their teeth, trim their nails, clip the hair under their tail or any number of invasive things we try to do. 

Sometimes what we really need is for them to just trust that they won't be hurt in the process. This comes with gentle training, positive reinforcement and good experiences. For some animals a treat is enough reward or even a friendly voice or pet on the head. For others even that is offensive or suspicious behavior. 

Zoo animals are sometimes taught to allow safe handling for certain procedures. Some gorillas will put their arm through the cage bars for a blood-draw! Our domestic animals can learn these skills as well.

It is best to start when they are young and impressionable. Puppies and kittens between the ages of 8-12 weeks are the most malleable and good experiences during this time can really pay off with socialization to other people and animals as well as physical handling. 

But don't despair if your beasts are older and getting set in their ways. We can always learn new things and so can they. 

Gentle massage and manipulation of paws, ears teeth and gums can be enjoyable attention for many animals. Start slow, even just a few seconds of pleasant stroking or gentle massage is good. Do a little bit every day. Gradually increase the time spent with these physical touches and try to stop before the animal feels at all uncomfortable—leave them wanting more! They may be coming to you for a back rub or foot massage soon! 

Be aware of your animal's likes and dislikes. Some really don't like to have their tail touched, leave that for later or never. Start with the favorite spots like rubbing a cat's neck—know your own animal's preferences! And please, don't put yourself in a position to be bitten. This is meant to be a pleasant experience for all and should not be forced. 

Once they are comfortable with their favorite people doing this, invite others to start slowly. Again, don't put your friends and neighbors in danger of being bitten either! Respect your animal's limitations and watch for body language such as tensing up, twitching lips or ears back that say "That's enough, I'm not enjoying this." Try to stop the handling session before this happens. It should always be a positive experience. Food rewards often work well. Even allowing someone new to give a treat can be a huge step in acceptance!

Gentle handling and conditioning at home when they are healthy can really help when animals need veterinary care, grooming or other physical care.