Pets can be nervous about going to the vet. At Lawndale Veterinary Hospital, we strive to make visits for pets as “Fear Free” as possible. Did you know that you can play a very important role in helping to give your pet a more pleasant experience at the veterinary clinic? Here are some things to consider:
- Acclimate your cat to the carrier for days or weeks leading up to the visit. This can be as easy as making the carrier a piece of furniture in your home. Put bedding inside and on top of the carrier and leave the door open. You can also put special toys and treats inside the carrier to encourage your cat to explore. If your cat is accustomed to the carrier, you will have no trouble getting your cat into the carrier when it’s time to leave. Additionally, the carrier will feel safe as your cat is traveling. For more information about acclimating your cat to a carrier, click here.
- Any time you change a cat’s environment they can become nervous or scared. If you cover the carrier with a towel this may help your cat not be as stimulated from all the different scenery changes (house to car, driving, car to clinic, lobby to exam room, etc.). Just be sure your towel placement allows for air circulation inside the carrier, especially on hot days.
- Prior to putting your cat inside the carrier, you may also consider spraying the inside of the carrier and the cover towel with a synthetic feline pheromone such as Feliway. This can have a calming effect on your feline friend. Be sure to give the spray time to dry before putting your cat inside the carrier.
- Keep the atmosphere calm and quiet from the car ride to the exam room. This will help soothe your pet and avoid excessive stimulation prior to the examination.
- Consider bringing your cat’s favorite toy or treat to the visit. We may be able to use these items to interact with your cat and help him / her to warm up to the visit more easily.
- While dogs may be easier to bring in for “Happy Visits” (see below), cats are always welcome as well!
- In general, attempt to ignore anxious behavior and redirect into a positive behavior. Then, praise your dog for calm behavior. For example, you see Fluffy panting and restless and she is trying to crawl into your lap. If Fluffy knows commands, tell her to sit. You have taken her mind off the situation and made her tune into you. While she is sitting and listening to you, then reward her with praise and/or a treat. The higher the anxiety trigger, the more you may have to work to capture your dog’s attention.
- Every dog should know basic commands (Sit, Stay, Come, etc.) – but this is especially true for dogs that have anxious tendencies. These commands can be used by you as well as our team to work with your dog while in the clinic.
- Bring your dog’s favorite toy or treat to the visit. We can use these to help your dog warm up to being in the clinic. We can also reward your dog for calm behavior.
- And speaking of treat rewards, if you bring your dog to the visit hungry, the rewards will be more successful. While we have plenty of treat rewards in the clinic, if your pet has a special dietary need then bringing some of your pet’s special diet or treats means we can still use treats as a reward.
- Our clinic always welcomes dogs for “Happy Visits”. These are visits where you bring your dog in for a fully positive experience in the clinic. Our staff can greet your dog and give a treat, and then you take your dog back home. No exam, no shots, nothing scary. Over time, your dog will start to recognize the clinic as a place where people pet him or her and give treats – not a bad place to be! If your dog is on a diet, then weight checks are a wonderful way to build in regular “Happy Visits”!
You may be able to think of other ways you can work with your dog or cat to help them be less nervous about vet visits. Let’s work together as a team to give your pet a “Fear Free” experience at the vet. Be sure to share more ideas with us in the clinic or on Facebook!
Author: Dr. C. Noureddine, DVM, MS