Dr. Sally Foote, owner of Okaw Veterinary Clinic in Tuscola, Ill., says she's hit on a not-so-novel but woefully underused
way to lower aggression and anxiety in patients in her clinic: rewards. She says offering treats while you give patients shots
and trim their nails results in less aggression from both dogs and cats. And if patients have a better experience at your
clinic, clients are more motivated to bring them in again.
FIT THE REWARD TO THE PATIENT
Of course, every patient is different, so Dr. Foote recommends you find out what works for each cat or dog with trial and
error. Rewards are easily customizable, and team members should test different treats (peanut butter, liver paste, lamb treats,
and so on) to see what works.
Keep in mind that food treats aren't the only type of reward that works. Some pets can also be calmed by verbal and nonverbal
praise, Dr. Foote says. And how and where the exam is performed can mean the difference between a hissing cat and purring
patient. For example, you may find that Ginger likes to stay in her carrier while Boo would rather be held by a technician
during the exam. Paris likes to be petted continuously, but Charlie should be wrapped in a towel for best results.
Once team members discover what makes each pet tick, they need to take notes. (Log on to
http://dvm360.com/treats to download a preference sheet to fill out for each patient.)
"Consistency from the staff in offering the right rewards for each pet helps insure that every exam goes better than the last,"
Dr. Foote says.
CUT DOWN ON BITES AND SCRATCHES
Calming patients with treats can also help prevent injuries. More than 90 percent of workers' compensation injuries at veterinary
practices are due to bites and scratches from animals, according to the AVMA Professional Liability Insurance Trust. Frightened
cats and dogs bite and scratch far more often than calm pets who give the veterinarian and team members room to examine and
treat. In other words: Rewards reduce fear in fretful clients, freaked-out patients, and worried team members.
PERKS FOR THE PRACTICE
In addition to smoother exams and better behavior from your patients, the reward system increases profitability by enabling
the staff to perform a more complete physical exam. When clients see that you make the exam more comfortable and thorough,
they trust you more and are more likely to comply with the recommendations you make. Recheck visits also help build revenue
and reinforce the pet's understanding that good things happen at the veterinary clinic. And new patient visits increase through
referrals from your established, happy clients.
"Your patients could be dragging their owners into—not out of—your clinic," Dr. Foote says. "Yowling, cowering cats can be
a thing of the past once you start rewarding your patients properly."