By Melissa Viera

stethoscope

A Visit to the Vet can be Scary!

Many pet owners face problems when it comes to bringing their pet to the veterinarian. While some pets enjoy the treats and attention given to them at the vets, others are not so thrilled. Waiting amongst anxious and stressed animals, surrounded by unfamiliar scents and people, and being handled in strange ways can have even the merriest of pets tucking their tails in fear.  Owners of these nervous pets often feel helpless, and might even avoid regular health checks because of the stress it causes their animal. However, from setting up at home training sessions to planning ahead for your pet’s visits there are things that you can do to make the experience a less stressful one.

scared dog vet

It doesn’t have to be like this!

Your animal could encounter any number of things that causes them to become stressed during their vet visit, and what triggers one animal might not be the same for another. If you can pin point what is causing your pet the most stress you can better see things from their perspective and come up with solutions.  Kayleigh Sousa, a vet tech and owner of two German Shepherds, finds that sounds are the trigger for her female shepherd, Marley.

“If there’s a barking dog or screaming cat her anxiety goes way up.”, says Sousa.  Since Colt, Sousa’s male Shepherd enjoys vet visits, she finds that bringing the two together helps.  Sousa also avoids exposing Marley to noisy animals saying, “I found that going straight into an exam room and not staying in the lobby with other rambunctious animals helped.”

So What Exactly is my Pet Scared of?

If you know which parts of the visit your animal is most sensitive to you can talk with your vet and come up with solutions for either avoiding the stressful aspects of the visit, or taking steps to reduce stress.  A few examples of things some animals could be triggered by include;

vet ready pet

 

scared puppy vet

I’m sorry, you want to stick a thermometer where???

Training at Home to Make Your Vet Visit less Stressful

Training at home will help your pet learn to be calm and well-mannered for the vet, and also create positive associations with the procedures and sensations that they will encounter. New puppy owners are usually eager to teach the basics like sit, come, and stay; Why not put husbandry and handling training right there at the top of the list? Getting a young puppy comfortable with handling and vet visits can prevent a lifetime of stress. Older pets can greatly benefit from this sort of training as well. It’s never too late to start working with your animal. These techniques can be used across all species including cats and other small pets.

A few minutes of training sprinkled through-out each week will make a big difference. Start off slowly, and always be sure that your animal is enjoying the learning process. You never want to push your pet to the point of frustration, or bore them by doing too much at once.  Use some of your pet’s favorite treats along with other things they find rewarding like praise. The idea is to “play vet” with your pet so they form a positive association and learn to cooperate.

dog vet

You said “play vet,” right?

You might first start by teaching your animal to stand on cue. Just like they have learned sit and down, you can also teach a stand. Once they are good with the stand you can move on and practice handling them in different ways for example lifting their paws, checking their teeth, etc. For animals that are opposed to being handled and pose a potential threat, owners should not attempt handling exercises without the help of a trainer or behaviourist. Try to stimulate a real vet visit the best you can considering all of your animal’s senses and what they are experiencing while at the vet.  One example of utilizing a scent they might encounter is leaving an open bottle of rubbing alcohol in the room during training.

 Settling on a Mat – A Great Skill to Learn

An invaluable behavior that will help your dog in many situations, and be especially useful for being in the waiting room is teaching them how to settle on a mat, and how to be calm on their “focus mat” even in the presence of distractions. Using a mat or station as a training tool gives your dog a clear indicator of what they are expected to do. When they see the mat come out they will know it is time to settle and relax (with practice first of course). You can bring a mat anywhere with you including the vet’s office.  Between appointments ask your vet if your dog can drop in to visit.  A quick hello and a treat, along with a few minutes of relaxing on their mat in the waiting room (if it is not on a busy day) will help your dog build a more positive association with being at the veterinarian’s.

dog on mat

I loves my mat

If You are Anxious Your Pet will be Anxious

The exam room can be a stressful place for animals especially if they are not used to the procedures or have had a negative experience with being in the exam room in the past.  It is normal to want to hold and comfort your pet during their time in the exam room, but in many cases it is best to take a deep breath and step back. Lisa Hayden, a vet tech, shares her advice for making the examination less stressful saying,”I think the most stressful part of the visit for most animals is being restrained in the exam rooms with the owners present. So many animals, dogs in particular, are protective of their owners. So being restrained makes them feel like their owners are in danger. The best thing an owner can do in this situation is do not touch the animal or help the technicians restrain, talk nicely to them; and if that doesn’t seem to work let the staff take the dog out to the treatment room to be worked on without the owner present. Animals are completely different without out their owners present.”

 Allow Enough Time

To have the best possible visit Hayden advises, “Be on time. If you’re late, sometimes you have to wait a long time before being seen. Try not to stress because your animals can sense it. Ask lots of questions, the more you understand the better your visit will be, and give your pet lots of praise and treats during and after the visit.”

 Remember to be Realistic, and Just do your Best

Preventing your pet from ever becoming stressed or nervous is unrealistic, but there are steps you should take to help them have a better experience with their veterinarian.  Adding husbandry and handling exercises into your regular training routine and planning ahead to prepare for vet appointments are small changes that can make a big difference.

 

Author Bio

Melissa Viera is the Owner and Founder of MJ’s Pet Training Academy located in Acushnet, MA. MJ’s Pet Training Academy provides pet training and grooming services and utilizes only positive methods. For more tips check out their blog or find them on Facebook

Joanna Paul
Dr. Joanna Paul BVSc (hons) BSc Jo is a practicing small animal veterinarian based in Melbourne, Australia. Working in partnership with loving pet owners to ensure their fur-kids remain happy, healthy family members life-long is what brings her joy. Well, that and taking naps. Jo strongly believes that helping to maintain the wonderful bond between a pet and their human is reason enough for a happy dance.
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Showing 36 comments
  • Summer Johnson
    Reply

    My dog is very sensitive to loud noises. I like your suggestion of going straight into the exam room and not waiting around in that stressful lobby. I will ask my vet if they can work with me and my pet’s needs.

  • Leviticus Bennett
    Reply

    I like your tip to teach your dog to sit on a mat in order to practice for the vet. I’ve heard that it’s also a good idea to take your dog to the park beforehand. That way he or she can exercise and use up his or her energy before going to the vet..

  • Bélise
    Reply

    Sometimes, I can’t quite put myself in my dogs shoes when she gets scared and nervous at the veterinarian. Thank you for your advice on how to have a vet ready pet. Your list of things that animals could be scared of at the vet is especially helpful. It’s true that waiting for long periods of time in a waiting room with other anxious animals can be scary for a dog. I’ll try to make things more comfortable for him at the vet.

  • Abélia
    Reply

    Thanks for your article on how to have a vet ready pet. It’s interesting just how differently our pets react to the vet. Some animals love the attention, and others get easily scared. I agree that it’s good to address exactly what your pet is scared of. I’m going to work on that with my dog before I bring him to the vet.

  • Katy
    Reply

    Good article. thanks

  • Saurav Nayak
    Reply

    Hi Melissa,

    It’s really a great post for all the pet parents that are uncomfortable taking their pets to vet just because pets are anxious, going to new places like vet clinic.
    The trick used like not waiting by directly taking the pet to examine room will really help a lot!!

    I appreciated your view that gradually teaching them skills like sitting on mat, lifting their paws, checking their teeth, sensing them scents like clinic etc. can help the pets to be ready for any clinic visit.

    Please if you could attach a few more tricks, that would be wonderful.:)

    With regards

    Saurav

  • Katy
    Reply

    great tips, thanks for the help !!

  • Silas Knight
    Reply

    You have some great advice here for helping my dog enjoy the vet more. I had never thought to train them at home before, but that makes sense. I will have to try “playing vet” with her, and see how that works, thanks!

  • emily bennette
    Reply

    Getting your pet to the vet can be a difficult thing to do sometimes. I like that you pointed out that if you are stressed about getting them their your pet will also be stressed and uncomfortable. Getting yourself and your pet used to your vet does seem like a good thing to do. That way you can feel at ease when you visit them.

  • Hans Aberg
    Reply

    Hi Melissa

    Its a great post and really like the way you have posted the things.
    It is very important that you should provide relevant care to your pup as you give to your child.

    Really like reading such interesting blog. 🙂

  • Paul Langley
    Reply

    This is some really great information for any new pet owner looking to make their pet “vet friendly”. I liked your tips about training them slowly to get used to the procedures that they’ll experience when they visit the vet, and I’ve read in a lot of other places that performing a miniature “procedure” (looking at their teeth, running your hands over them, etc.) every week or so and giving them a treat for behaving, it can make it a lot easier for them to be prepared for a real vet visit. Thanks so much for writing!

  • Hazel Owens
    Reply

    I really like your advice to train your pet to go to the vet, and to do your best to stay calm at the vet. I’ve seen so many dogs that become really anxious once they get to the vet’s office, Doing some preparation work can help relieve that and help your pet get the best care when at the vet. Thanks for the tips!

  • Elden Gatley
    Reply

    I agree that you shouldn’t allow yourself to be anxious around your pet. I feel like they are very receptive and they will pick up on it. I think they may even perceive your anxiety even if you avoid fidgeting.

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Absolutely Elden.
      They pick up on all sorts of cues. Trying to be calm is important, but if you feel you can’t perhaps it’s better to have another family member take them to their appointment if possible.

  • James Bergman
    Reply

    Thanks for the tips. My dog really hates going to the vet. I think it is something to do with the smells and the hard floor. So, I like your tip about using a mat to help them relax. It will probably help my dog to have a little piece of home that he can find some comfort in. I’ll have to start training him on it.

  • Laurel Larsen
    Reply

    I think you are so right when you point out that your mood can affect your pet’s mood as well. When I’m taking my cat to the veterinarian, she can definitely sense if I am stressed, and it in turn stresses her out. Seeing as how vet trips are necessary for her health, though, I’ll have to learn how to calm down for her sake.

  • Rachel Finn
    Reply

    I really like the idea of “playing vet” with my dog to get her ready for going to the vet. She has been really scared each time we’ve gone, to the point of shaking when we turn onto the road where the clinic is located. I also need to work on being on time because that’s definitely a big stress for me, and I’m usually late!

  • Violet Sullivan
    Reply

    I didn’t realize that having me there with my dog could make him act up even more. I’m taking my little guy to another appointment next week. I’ll have to allow the vets to take care of him without me present to see if that calms him down at all.

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      It’s different for every dog. Sometimes it really helps though, so it’s worth a try. I hope it goes well 🙂

  • Aras Androck
    Reply

    The first dog looks so big yet still seems cuddly. Cute!

  • Robert Truog
    Reply

    Great tips . I have an Alex Puppy. He is outgoing, playful, loving, and charming ,but I faced the problem when it comes to bringing his to the veterinarian. So your tips are very helpful for me and now I can handle him.

  • weliveinaflat
    Reply

    Donna doesn’t really start to get anxious until we step into into the vet’s office. Outside with all the other noisy animals is fine because she is sociable. But once we transition to the small room with only the vet in it, she starts facing the door wanting to go out again. She starts trembling violently once she is handled by the vet. I suppose if we continue to see the same vet she may start to like the vet? We have been rotating through the different vets in the same clinic since we don’t have a preference and figure it might be good that she met all of them since we never know when we might have to bring her in for an emergency. 🙂

  • jansfunnyfarm
    Reply

    Good article. None of us like going to the vet. Waiting room is too small and if there are other animals there, we really get stressed.

  • Kitty Cat Chronicles
    Reply

    Great advice! Thankfully all of us are pretty well behaved at the vet, surprisingly. Sophie is so crazy, she even purrs the entire time! MOL!
    Stopping by from the Pet Parade to say hello!!

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Thanks for stopping by! Its great that you don’t have any problems, and I especially love the purring kitties 🙂 It makes it a little difficult to listen to their chests, but it’s well worth it!

  • Basil
    Reply

    Great tips and thanks fur sharing!

    Bestest purrs

    Basil x

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Thank you for visiting from the Pet Parade 🙂

  • Connie
    Reply

    I worked at a vet as a receptionist a while ago and we would encourage people to bring their dogs in to say hi, get a treat and leave… that way the pup would start associating the vet as a good place.

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      That’s a wonderful thing to do Connie. If only it worked for Kitties too! There are certainly things vets can do to make the clinic a more pleasant place for cats as well, keeping them separated from dogs, putting them up on a seat in the waiting room rather than down on the floor, feliway, towels on slippery surfaces, etc.
      I love what you do, thank you for taking the time to stop by x

  • Rascal and Rocco
    Reply

    I always get my dogs used to being examined by messing with their ears, looking at their teeth, paws, etc, from the time they’re puppies. So it’s not such a foreign experience when they get a check up or need something looked at. All great tips!

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Thank you 🙂
      I looooove pet owners who do that – it’s very helpful for vets and pets alike! I do my utmost to create a positive experience for every animal that walks through the clinic door, but for some it is still very scary.

  • Reply

    Great tips! Thanks for sharing. Only one of my huskies gets nervous at the vet, the other two love the attention the get from the people there lol!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Huskies are so beautiful – I bet they get loads and loads of attention when they walk in the door!

  • Cairns Cake Lady
    Reply

    Great post. My Labrador gets Vet anxiety every time. It’s like he knows before we even get into the car!

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Oh no! Well rest assured this is very common! Anything you can do to make vet visits a positive experience will help. The happiest dogs at my clinic are the ones who came for puppy preschool – they usually bound in the door!

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