By Melissa Viera
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.
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;
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.
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.
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.
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