Identifying Unseen Injuries and Medical Conditions
By Kama Brown
Letting employees know directly that safety is the highest priority is good, but specifically explaining that dog and human safety is secondary to the workday being productive can make a huge impact. Without directly expressing this over and over, it is more likely that the staff member will make a decision based on being productive and set themselves and the dog up for an injury.
During the employee training session, I always admit to employees that a bored dog isn’t ideal but it beats an injured dog every day of the year. The same principle applies to employees. At times it can seem counter intuitive to be overly cautious, but I’ve found that erring on the side of caution reduces big unexpected costs while improving customer and employee satisfaction in the long run.
Following is a list of unseen injuries and how to spot them. Staff members should be taught and encouraged to share any and all strange behaviors with each other in writing so information is not lost during a shift change. Something quick and easy, such as a whiteboard on the dog’s kennel, is a perfect place to record quirks or stressful events the dog has encountered during the visit.
All employees should understand the importance and impact trigger stacking has on the dog. Trigger stacking happens when dogs are not able to completely de-stress from one stressful event or situation before another one occurs. When a few minimally stressful events occur around the same time, they become equal to one very stressful situation. What you’ll see is a dog that responds to a minor event as if it is catastrophic.
Let’s say, under normal circumstances, a repeat client’s dog has shown only minimal signs of unease at having his paws picked up (lip licking, looking away) and then all of a sudden that same dog scratches or bites the employee when they pick up his feet. If the employee can’t figure out what they did to trigger this, the most likely explanation is trigger stacking.
Trigger stacking could have looked like this: The car ride gave the dog a stomachache, the dog then accidently got his tail stuck in the door coming in, then on the way to his kennel a dog lunges at him, which makes him jump and get his foot tangled in the loop of the leash. The dog is so on edge at this point that when the employee bends down and picks up the dog’s foot, the dog goes past the point of his normal stress response and reactively scratches or bites. Knowing that the dog had already been through extra stress experiences that day would have warned the employee to be on guard, keep their head up, and give the dog extra space.
Oftentimes a dog will not realize how sore they are until after having stayed still for a length of time. When finally asked to move for outside time or kennel cleaning, the dog begins to growl. If the dog was fine a few hours earlier and is usually mild mannered about being asked to move, I would suspect sore muscles or muscle bruising.
Bribe the dog up on to his feet with some hot dogs, warm chicken, or cat food. Once up, use the food to get the dog walking a few steps and look for stiffness, swelling, obvious limping, or a change in gait. See if the dog will walk in a tight circle, raise and lower their head, or walk up or down a set of stairs. If the dog shows any signs of pain such as whining, whimpering, hesitating, or turning away, take the dog out of play sessions for the next 48 hours and monitor the situation. The most important first-aid treatment for any injury is rest. If the dog is unable to be bribed, without any obvious signs of injury, wait a few hours and try again, with the smelliest and best tasting food available.
Training employees to watch the dogs’ movements when they are stretching, running, and playing can increase the chance of catching minor issues before they turn into sore muscle injuries during daycare. Noticing stiffness, swelling, and/or minor changes in gait is information that can be passed on via whiteboard or during shift change. This added awareness on how a dog is feeling could prevent injuries.
Ear infections can quickly go from being unable to be seen by the human eye to severe in 48 hours. Dogs who suddenly begin to snap at other dogs during playtime or begin to avoid being touched on the head should be checked for ear infections. An easy way to check is to offer them some peanut butter on a plate and gently flip back the ear and look inside. If there is a harsh odor or brown looking goo, they are infected and need veterinary care.
Oftentimes dogs learn that having their ears treated for infections is painful and the dog can still be sensitive for a few weeks following the treatment. It’s always good to check the dog’s ears during check-in and ask about recent infections.
Dementia or Sundowner’s syndrome can create unease in dogs, which can look like unpredictable aggression. If the dog seems confused or startles easily, train employees to go slow and find a way to make the dog aware of their presence. Before putting the leash on, dangle the leash in front and let them sniff the leash. Before feeding, take an extra moment to open and close the kennel door a few times to make sure the dog is awake and fully aware someone is there. Before physically moving the dog for grooming or before attaching a leash, reach out slowly and begin petting the dog to make sure they are in the right mindset to accept it. Preventing dog bites can be as easy as learning not to startle a dog with cognition issues.
Hot spots often begin on the neck or in the groin and can be difficult to see when they are small. When petting the scruff or under the chin, if you notice the dog seems to shy away or shake their head and the ears look non-infected, check the dog over for a skin condition. Very often, dogs that are in mild unease about being touched will begin to lick the hands that are touching them as a way to express their worry. Dogs can also get sunburn, heat rashes, and chafed skin in sensitive areas.
Nails that are allowed to grow too long can oftentimes split down the middle which is difficult to see, generally don’t bleed, but are extremely sensitive. Oftentimes they will chew or lick their feet and nails when this happens.
Stress Related Gastro-Intestinal Issues such as Gas, Bloat, and Colitis
Dogs who snap their heads when their stomach or back end is touched may be feeling pain in their abdomens. It may take a few days to see physical signs such as bloating or blood in the stool.
Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)
Symptoms include muscle weakness, glassy eyes, collapse, disorientation, and tremors. Sometimes this can look like dehydration. The dog may become suddenly fearful or snappy. If this is suspected, try feeding the dog a few smaller meals throughout the day instead of one large meal.
I watched a dog once go from being a sweet natured Beagle playing in the yard to a flailing, snapping, and aggressive Beagle who refused to come out of a corner. We watched as he pawed at his face over and over while simultaneously defending himself from approaching dogs and people. While this could also have been a bad bug bite to the face, we eventually wrangled him and realized he had a perfectly sized tiny stick lodged in the roof of his mouth, between his upper teeth. It was just the right size that it couldn’t be seen until it was dislodged. Dogs having oral issues will usually paw their faces, rub their faces on the ground, throw their heads back, and generally won’t stop moving their necks around. If nothing obvious can be found it could be a severe dental or throat issue that would need to be seen.
Keeping all employees informed of the slight changes in dog behavior over the dog’s entire stay can paint an overall picture before aggression or injury is severe. Each time an employee notices something slight, it becomes a teaching opportunity for new staff members as well, and so continual learning is taking place. Repeat reminders to staff that safety is the vital first priority can create a sense of prevention and awareness that lowers injuries in both dogs and employees.