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Many dogs and cats experience distress at the veterinary hospital. When experiencing these emotions, pets can resist treatment, be difficult to examine, and may even become aggressive. Creating a less stressful environment, monitoring emotional states, and developing individual handling plans can help keep pets feeling safe and more relaxed during visits.

Low Stress Handling® is an educational program created to teach veterinarians and their team members humane and effective approaches to patient handling and restraint. Developed by Sophia Yin, DVM, CAAB, MS Animal Science and animal behaviorist, the program centers around Ten Handling Principles. The principles teach veterinary team members how to better understand and communicate with their patients while handling them skillfully and safely.

Dr. Sophia Yin’s Ten Handling Principles:

  1.  Start with a comfortable environment.
  2.  Keep the animal from pacing, moving nervously or excitedly, squirming, or suddenly trying to escape.
  3.  Support the animal well by having your hands, arms, and body positioned appropriately. The pet should not feel as if they will fall or is off balance.
  4.  Avoid causing resistance in the pet. Move deliberately and slowly to avoid reflex resistance or escape behavior.
  5.  Know how to place your hands and body to control movement in any direction.
  6.  Wait until the patient is relaxed before starting a procedure.
  7.  Use minimal and appropriate restraint.
  8.  Avoid prolonged struggling (more than two seconds for cats and three seconds for dogs) or repeated fighting or struggling.
  9.  Use distractions and rewards.
  10.  Adjust your handling based on the individual animal and their response to restraint.

A comprehensive program, Low Stress Handling® encompasses more than just individual handling and restraint of animals. Dr. Yin emphasized that fear and anxiety start even before the animal arrives at the veterinary hospital and that our greetings and subsequent interactions significantly impact the animal’s overall emotional well-being and behavior. Counterconditioning can make a difference. At-home medications and sedation should be utilized early in the process creating individualized handling plans based on the specific needs of the animal in front of you. 

In addition to veterinary hospitals, the late Dr. Yin’s Low Stress Handling® concepts and teachings are applicable to all pet professionals including shelter and rescue team members, trainers, military dog handlers, and groomers.