All creatures great and snarl? Two thirds of vets injured by pets in the last year

21 August 2015

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) is urging veterinary teams and pet owners to work together to improve safety in surgeries as new figures reveal that two-thirds (64%) of small animal vets have been injured in the course of their work in the last year.

BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey found that by far the most common injuries were scratches and bites: 90% of injured vets had received scratches and 78% had suffered bites. Other injuries included lacerations beyond surface scratching and bruising from kicks. Nearly a fifth (17%) of companion animal vets rated the injuries as ‘very’ or ‘quite severe’. 
Vets responding to the survey described some of the injuries they had received and experiences in the consulting room:

  • “Multiple deep penetrating dog bites from one episode requiring A&E visit, x-rays and antibiotics.”
  • Deep cat bites are most common, then superficial scratches.”
  • Injuries happen; good knowledge of animal behaviour helps, but sick animals can react in unpredictable ways.”
  • People are sometimes reluctant to let us muzzle their dogs, even if we feel that we or the owners may be at risk.”

BVA President John Blackwell emphasised the importance of owners and vets working together to ensure the best care of a loved pet while keeping everyone safe. He said: 

Vets accept the daily risk of injury at work, but these figures highlight just how common injuries are for vets who care for pets. Rather than simply accepting this as an ‘occupational hazard’, veterinary teams should ensure they are taking all appropriate measures to mitigate the risks of working with animals whenever possible. BVA provides guidance for vets, for example on preventing and dealing with dog bites in the practice.

“We also ask pet owners to work with us. The surgery can be a strange and unsettling place for animals and even the most usually placid pet can become nervous. If a vet is taking precautions, such as muzzling, it is to protect everyone and to ensure the animal in their care receives the very best treatment possible in a safe environment. We would also urge owners to inform the vet if their animal has shown anxious behaviour on previous visits to the surgery.”

Small animal vets are more likely to be injured than other vets in clinical practice, with 65% of small animal vets responding that they had been injured in the last year compared with 61% of equine vets and 53% of production animal vets. However, a larger percentage of production animal and equine vets experienced severe injuries, with 19% of production animal vets and over a quarter of equine vets (27%) rating their most severe injury as ‘severe’ or ‘quite severe’. Head injuries and bruising from kicks or crush injuries were particularly severe for vets working with equine and production animals.

Last year a study commissioned by the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) and carried out by medical professionals at the Institute of Health and Wellbeing and the School of Veterinary Medicine at Glasgow found that being a horse vet carries the highest risk of injury of any civilian occupation in the UK, with the expectation that an equine vet will experience between seven and eight work-limiting injuries during a 30-year career.

BVA’s resources for members include guidance on taking preventive measures in surgeries to avoid dog bites and what to do if a dog does bite, as well as guidance on farm health and safety. BVA is urging pet owners to help the vets caring for their animals by allowing the vet to take measures, such as muzzling dogs or restraining cats, that keep the veterinary team and owners safe from harm. 

For more information on the BVA's Voice of the Veterinary Profession please visit www.bva.co.uk/voice

BVA Media Office