The Hazards of Working With Animals

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  • 0:01 Working With Animals…
  • 1:23 Personal Protective Equipment
  • 3:10 Zoonotic Dangers
  • 6:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson discusses the common dangers and preventative measures you can take to protect against yourself the hazards of working with animals through the use of personal protective equipment.

Working with Animals Can Be Hazardous

Being scratched by a cat, bit by a dog, and kicked by a horse are all part of the job for those working with animals, including veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and veterinary assistants. Animals do not try to hurt us on purpose; it is mainly a reaction to their surroundings. Pets that are the most docile and gentle at home can turn into dangerous animals once placed outside of their comfort zone, including a veterinary clinic.

This is why you should always be alert when working around animals. Animals can react to any sudden movements you make, noises they hear, or lights they observe, in a way that may hurt you. This is precisely why you should never allow an owner to restrain their animal. Owners are almost never aware of the way their pets will react to certain environmental stimuli outside their usual environment, and this can lead to the owner getting hurt as well.

As a general rule of thumb, if an owner tells you their pet never bites and is the sweetest pet ever, watch out. As soon as you let your guard down, the sweetest pets are many times the ones that can bite the hardest. Bites, kicks, scratches are just half of the hazards of working with animals. Let's take a look at other hazards of working with animals and how you can protect yourself.

Personal Protective Equipment

Let's say you're a veterinarian or a veterinary assistant. When working with animals, you should always be aware of PPE, personal protective equipment, found in your hospital. Let's take a look at some examples relevant to this lesson.

To protect yourself against bites and scratches, use leashes, towels, muzzles, and specialized gloves. To protect yourself against exposure to infectious agents, use aprons, gloves, safety glasses, and masks. To protect your hearing against loud noises, such as the barking of many dogs in a kennel while you're cleaning there, use ear plugs. I think you get the idea here.

There are, of course, plenty more things to consider. Your hospital will likely have specialized snares and poles for especially dangerous animals and a policy where you are absolutely required to wear gloves, a mask, and safety glasses when dealing with a wild animal or a stray whose vaccination status is unknown.

Furthermore, when bathing or dipping patients, always use a well-ventilated area to keep yourself safe from any fumes, and don't forget to wear gloves, glasses, and an apron. Always store all chemicals, medication, and shampoo used for bathing or dipping below eye level, in case they fall.

Even when you are in a situation where you think you don't need personal protective equipment, think twice. While working as a veterinary assistant, I was once handling a cute little dog the owner said never bites. Big mistake. I leaned in to get a kiss and instead got my lip cut open by its teeth. Lesson learned. Never ever place your face near the mouth of an animal no matter how it's acting or what the owner says.

Zoonotic Dangers

And that's not only because the bite itself can cause serious physical harm, it's also because animals can carry infectious agents that can cause people disease. This is known as a zoonotic disease, a disease that can be passed on from an animal to a human.

When working with any samples taken from animals, be they fecal, blood, urine, or otherwise, always wear gloves and always wash your hands. If you're actually treating an animal with a zoonotic disease, wear a protective mask, eye protection, and protective apron in addition to gloves. If your clothing has been contaminated, you need to change it right away.

Here are some examples of zoonotic diseases and how you should best handle them.

First, there's rabies, a virus transmitted via an animal's saliva, usually through a bite. Always wear gloves, a protective gown, and goggles when handling a rabies suspect, an animal that may have rabies. Check your hospital policy on whether or not you need to get a rabies vaccine from your doctor to further protect yourself from possible exposure.

Bacterial infections from the likes of E. coli, Pseudomonas, and Pasteurella, among plenty others, can be passed on from animals to a human. Typically, they're passed through contact with an animal's excretions. This is why you need to always wear gloves and wash your hands. This is also good practice when handling animals with ringworm, a fungus that you can also catch from animals.

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