To picture a cat muzzle, think a little along the lines of a hood placed on a falcons head to prevent injury to the bird and the handler. Unable to see, the bird remains calm and restrained.
For similar safety reasons, muzzles are commercially available for cats and can serve a valuable, temporary purpose. Generally constructed of lightweight nylon material ranging from soft fleece to mesh, a feline muzzle is form-fitted according to a cats weight and head size. It is designed for short-term use only.
Thanks to their agile bodies and acrobatic ways, cats are notoriously difficult to restrain when they are unhappy, says Andrea Oncken, DVM, who is board-certified in veterinary emergency and critical-care medicine and is medical director of Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Portland, Oregon. We use cat muzzles here for fractious or frightened cats, she says. If we have an extremely fractious cat that we are struggling to restrain, we will sometimes use the muzzle to help prevent bites to the staff.
Correctly used, a cat muzzle is not cruel and can prevent unnecessarily rough handling and injuries; that is, the handler will likely be calmer when the cats teeth are out of commission, explains ELise Christensen, DVM, a resident at the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell Universitys College of Veterinary Medicine. In addition, a muzzle prevents a cat from seeing its target and accurately using another weapon – its claws.
Because muzzles designed for cats cover their eyes, they may also have a calming effect on some cats – but this is not true for all. The muzzles are not uncomfortable if fitted appropriately; however, they can be frightening and feel unusual to animals that are unaccustomed to physical restraint, Dr. Christensen notes.
Feline Escape Artists
Unlike dogs, cats can typically remove a muzzle by themselves within a few seconds. Thats why cat muzzles arent meant to stay on without concurrent restraint of the animal, Dr. Oncken emphasizes. Our staff is trained in cat restraint and holding them in such a way that they cant get to our hands, she says.
Keep in mind that muzzles should be used only for short procedures and with the supervision of someone trained in their use. Cats dont tolerate even light pressure on their faces for extended periods of time, Dr. Christensen adds.
For Emergency Use Only
Consider why you might need a muzzle for your cat, Dr. Christensen notes. Is it for emergencies? Its fine to teach a cat to be comfortable in a commercial muzzle for that purpose, she says.
If your cat requires chronic veterinary care or is aggressive enough to require muzzling during most veterinary visits, however, it is time to address the underlying problem of fear at the veterinary clinic, she continues. For example, this problem could be addressed with a combination of behavior modification and appropriate anti-anxiety medication or sedation.
A muzzle is also not the answer if your cat acts aggressively when you clip his nails or brush him. Seek professional help to work directly on the problem rather than covering up a symptom, she recommends.
Less Is More
Veterinary staffs strive to reduce a cats stress during handling, and the process may not include a cat muzzle. Veterinarians and veterinary technicians adept at handling cats believe that, overall, less is more when it comes to cat restraint, and they will often use sedation rather than restraint as a way to decrease a cats fear and discomfort in the veterinary office, Dr. Christensen explains.
To learn the proper way to use and fit a cat muzzle, consult your veterinarian for assistance. It shouldnt be difficult for an owner to place a muzzle on a cat if the owner is trained appropriately, she says.
Lesson in Restraint
In a feline emergency, your best ally – and protection – may be in your linen closet. Do not attempt to construct a temporary muzzle for a cat that is injured or ill, Dr. Oncken advises. Instead, snugly wrap your animal in a thick towel or blanket. Keep an eye on your cats head, as a cat can easily bite through a towel and into a nearby hand or arm.
Pet owners who dont take safety precautions may pay a painful price. People come into our animal hospital with cat bites as often as dog bites, Dr. Oncken says. The difference is that even a small cat bite presents a severe infection danger, and cat bites to the hand, especially the joints, often put the recipient in the hospital for surgery and intravenous antibiotics, she warns.