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How to Make Vet Visits Less Stressful

By Julia Williams

As responsible pet owners, we know how important veterinary exams are for keeping our dogs and cats healthy. However, just because we know it’s for their own good doesn’t mean our pets will enjoy the vet visit. In fact, most pets don’t like going to the vet, which makes sense when you consider how stressful it must be for them. Aside from the fear of being in an unfamiliar environment, they encounter peculiar smells and sounds, other animals, and strangers in white coats touching, prodding and poking them. What’s to like about that? Nevertheless, there are things you can do to help your pet tolerate vet visits and keep their stress level down, which will help you stay calm too.

Car Rides

If the only time your pet rides in a car is on the way to the vet, it’s only natural they’ll become agitated. For dog owners, the solution is to bring them along when you run short errands (just don’t leave them in the car in the summer!), take them to a dog park often or to places that allow dogs such as pet stores. This can help curb their anxiety on trips to the vet. I’m not sure the same holds true for cats, aka notorious haters of cars in motion. I haven’t tried “practice rides” with my cats, mostly because subjecting myself to more of the heart-wrenching wails they make in the car doesn’t seem wise. 

Keep Your Emotions in Check

As you’ve probably noticed, our pets are very much in tune with our emotions. If you are stressed and anxious about going to the vet, your pet will pick up on that – so try to stay as calm as you can before you set off, during the car ride and while you’re waiting to see the vet. Speaking words of encouragement in a soothing voice can help your pet to relax in the strange environment. 

Acclimate Your Pet to Touch

A visit to the vet can be stressful for your pet if they’re not used to being touched all over. Pets that have their paws, ears, chin, legs, belly, tail and other areas touched frequently are much less likely to perceive the vet’s procedures as invasive or threatening. Keep the sessions short and have some CANIDAE TidNips treats handy as a reward. Once your pet is comfortable with being touched all over by you, you might want to ask your friends and other family members to touch them too.

An important part of this touching routine is discovering sensitive spots where they prefer not to be touched. With a little patience, gentle practice and treats, you can help them learn to accept being touched all over, even in the sensitive spots. You should also get your pet used to being leaned over, held onto or picked up, so that experiencing these things in the exam room will not be as frightening.

Tips for Cat Owners

A recent veterinary study found that a third of all pet cats did not see a vet in the preceding year. Economics is certainly a factor; however, some cat owners don’t visit the vet because of the stress it causes their pet. Putting fearful cats into their carriers is no small feat, and most cats don’t relax until they’re safely back home after the visit. According to noted veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, veterinary behaviorists are helping vets understand feline behavior as well as designing facilities and protocols to make cats more comfortable. This will lead to many changes in the coming years, one of which is the use of cat pheromones such as Feliway, which Dr. Becker calls “kumbaya in a can.” He recommends spraying it liberally in your cat carrier, and he also wears it himself while seeing his cat patients, which helps them to relax.

To make the cat carrier feel less like a prison or something associated only with vet visits, leave it out so that it becomes part of your furniture. Keep the door open, and place a soft towel or blanket inside to create an inviting place for your cat to sleep. If they still steer clear, some treats and a sprinkle of catnip may entice them to go inside.

Tips for Dog Owners

Vet visits are stressful for some dogs simply because it’s a new environment. One of the best things you can do to dramatically lesson your dog’s anxiety is to stop by the vet’s office once in awhile, just to say hello. Take along some yummy CANIDAE TidNips treats and ask the receptionist to give them to your dog. If you have a puppy, start these “social” vet visits as early as possible. Be sure to call ahead to ask what time would be most convenient. 

Bring a chew toy so your dog has something to do while in the waiting room. You can also use the time to practice his basic commands or work on a new trick. Speaking of basic commands, training your dog well will go a long way toward lowering his stress at the vet clinic. The basic behaviors that are essential during exams include sit, stand, lie down, and turn around. Shake can also help facilitate foot exams.

Top photo by Adria Richards
Bottom photo by Rob Marquardt

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