Have you ever been embarrassed about how your pet acts at the vet? Many pet parents apologize to me about their pet’s behaviour at our veterinary hospital, saying how they can’t believe that Fluffy is growling and hiding under the chair, or that their pet really does have manners and knows how to sit. Unfortunately, some clients will elect to forego crucial veterinary care entirely because their pets are so fearful at the hospital. It is just too difficult and stressful.
It is important for pet parents to know that when your pet misbehaves, the veterinary staff understands. When an animal is at the vet clinic, he is not in his right mind. I know how I feel at the dentist, and I know what is going on, so imagine how your pet feels!
In veterinary medicine, we are finding out that your pet’s emotional well-being is as important as his or her physical well-being, and part of that is reducing the fear and stress associated with veterinary visits so that your pet can get the care he needs. While veterinary hospitals are modifying their protocols to help pets feel more comfortable, there are also steps you can take at home to make vet visits go more smoothly.
Relaxation starts in the car. Long before the day of your veterinary visit, get your pet used to carriers and car rides. Let cats use their carriers daily as a resting place so it is familiar, and make sure the carrier is level in the car by placing a towel under the carrier. If your dog shows signs of carsickness (vomiting, drooling, acting anxious) talk to your veterinarian about anti-nausea medication that you would administer before your pet gets in the car.
Use pheromones, calming nutraceuticals and music to calm your pet. To help pets relax on the day of your appointment, use Adaptil or Feliway pheromone spray and calming supplements such as l-thianine. Try playing music specifically designed to reduce stress in pets, such as Through a Cat’s Ear and Through a Dog’s Ear, available on iTunes.
Limit food before your veterinarian visit. There is a lot of research that shows eating lowers anxiety and produces feel-good endorphins. I feel like I would be happier at the doctor if they gave me an ice cream cone when they were giving me a shot! If they don’t already, ask veterinary staff to feed treats all the way through the visit.
Minimize waiting room time. Waiting rooms can be stressful. Imagine a terrified Maltese getting stared down by a Doberman! Weather permitting, check in with the front staff and then go get your pet from your car when you can be ushered directly into an exam room. If your vet clinic has an outdoor area, let your pet wander on leash and sniff pee-mail. If weather prohibits you from leaving your pet in the car for a bit, ask if you can wait in an exam room.
If you pet has severe anxiety or fear aggression, talk with your veterinarian about sedating early in the visit, or even before the visit. Some of my clients administer alprazolam at home before coming: it’s the equivalent to someone who has a fear of flying taking a Xanax before getting on a plane.
Just breathe. A calmer client equals a calmer pet. Our pets perceive our anxiety and will pick up on it, so when you are at the veterinarian, practice slow, deep breaths and calm behaviour around your pet so that your pet can relax. Be calm, so your pet can be calm.