Is Your Pet Afraid of the Vet?
Tips and Tricks to Help You Prepare
We’ve all been there. The dog that puts on the brakes with all 4 paws the second they see the veterinary clinic. Or the cat that meows and cries the entire car ride and shivers in fear throughout the entire exam. We know that they need routine medical care, but we hate to see them so fearful. So what’s the solution? Here are a few tips and tricks that may help reduce your pet’s fear of the vet.
Make Happy Visits
If you realized that every time you went somewhere strange people were going to touch you and poke you with things, wouldn’t you be a little reluctant to go there? That’s exactly how your pet may feel, particularly if they have ever been very ill or injured. We recommend regular “happy visits”. We keep gigantic tubs of peanut butter and dog/cat treats all over the clinic, and we encourage owners with fearful pets to come by regularly just to get treats and say hi. The more often this happens the more they will associate the clinic with treats, pets, and love than they will with vaccines, nail trims, and blood draws.
Practice the Process
How often does your cat get in the carrier? How often does he ride in the car? How much time does she really spend outside of the 3 square feet around her cat tree? When everything about the process of getting to the vet makes an animal anxious, by the time they actually get there they are in full blown freak out mode. We recommend practicing the process.
For cats, have the carrier out all the time. Maybe feed them in it or store some of their toys in it. If you only pull it out of the closet once a year, you’re tipping them off that trouble’s coming. Practice car rides, especially when they’re young. Even if it’s just a quick trip around the block, if every car ride doesn’t end in something awful then they won’t learn to dread the car.
For dogs, it depends on what makes them anxious. If they love car rides that’s great, one less thing to worry about! If they don’t, practice the car ride. If you’re within walking distance of your vet that’s even better! Practice walking in that area regularly. Is there a dog park near your vet? Go there first and let them have some fun and burn off some energy. The more positive associations you can make with going to the vet the better.
Work on Restraint at Home
One of the most common things that we see in the clinic is animals who are afraid of being restrained. It makes sense, most of them don’t ever get restrained outside of the clinic, so it’s a weird concept for them. We recommend practicing mild restraint at home. Depending on how fearful your dog or cat is of restraint it may start with just a quick hug. Then maybe a longer hug, or holding one of their arms while hugging them, or holding them in a standing position. If they’re comfortable with you holding them it can make their vet visits much less stressful.
Work with a Trainer
Some pets will respond to all of the above, and some won’t. There are many trainers, such as Honest to Dog, who specialize in fearful pets and can help you and your veterinarian through the process of making your dog or cat less fearful.
Last, but not least…Life is sometimes better with drugs
For some pets, the level of anxiety is just too high for all of the above to work without a little help. There is absolutely nothing wrong with giving them an anxiety medication prior to a visit to help take the edge off. These medications are very safe, reliable, and have few to no side effects.
If your pet doesn’t respond well enough to oral medications, or if you have trouble giving them, talk to your veterinarian about injectable sedatives that can be given in the clinic. These will often add an extra cost to your visit but may be the best way to avoid both physical and emotional trauma for your pet.
Have a new puppy and want to make sure that it doesn’t become fearful? Check out our post on Puppy Socialization!