Some dogs love going to the vet; the shear thrill of seeing new people who will pet them and give them a cookie is enough to send them over the edge with excitement. But for those of us with cats and dogs who know better, the mere whisper of the letters “V-E-T” can turn them into a cowering, drooling, shaking, mess. And each time you bring them in it seems to get worse, until the stress of going to the vet is too much for both of you and you stop going all together unless an emergency arises. So is there anything that can be done to turn this around and make your local animal hospital an inviting place for your beloved, furry friend? It turns out there is, and below are 7 things you can do to make your pet’s vet visit a fear- free one.
1. Start Early
Proper socialization and training are imperative to creating a happy, emotionally healthy pet. Dog’s who have been socialized are 1.6 times less likely to be aggressive then dogs who aren’t. Training methods are also important. Puppies that are trained with aversive methods (i.e. using punishment) are 2.2 times more likely to be aggressive to non-family members then pets that are trained using a reward system. Set the stage early for a positive experience at the vet (and groomer and kennel…)
2. Bring Them to the Office Just to Say Hello
For your pet, the vet’s office is a daunting place that elicits images of needles and pain. To turn this around, you need to bring them to the office often, even when they don’t need to be there. Bring them by so that the staff can spoil them with treats, and if they’re comfortable with it, lots of head rubs and butt scratches. This technique is called desensitization. It teaches your dog that there’s nothing to be afraid of at the vet.
3. Bring Them in Hungry
When your dog does need to come in, and there are likely to be uncomfortable procedures such as shots, nail trims, and ear cleanings, treats can be used to distract your pet. This works best when your pet is hungry already. Your vet will most likely already have some treats to give, but if your pet is picky, on a special prescription diet, or just has a favorite food, bringing something special with you can help endear your pet to your veterinarian even more.
4. Muzzle Train Your Dog
If your dog gets aggressive at the animal hospital and is likely to need a muzzle, you can make things easier for vet and your dog by muzzle training them. By teaching them to accept their muzzle and by putting it on before you get to the office, you can greatly reduce the stress associated with having a veterinary team member place the muzzle after your dog is already worked up. A special type of muzzle called a basket muzzle is needed for this kind of training. These muzzles can be off-putting to you at first since they tend to have a “Hannibal Lecter” feel to them, but they are the safest and most comfortable option for your dog since they can pant, drink and even eat with these muzzles on. At home, teach your dog to put their face in the muzzle by putting food inside. Do not clip the muzzle on at first until they are willing to put their face in without hesitation. Once they do this, you can clip the muzzle and leave it on for short periods of time.
5. Teach Your Cat To Love Their Carrier
Sometimes it seems like cats go into hiding the moment you pick up the phone to make an appointment. And if they don’t disappear then, they’re sure to be missing as soon as you take the carrier out of the closet. And once you do catch them, getting them in the carrier is likely to leave you looking like a scratching post. The best way to combat this struggle is to make your cat love their carrier. The carrier should be left out at all times (with the door secured open or removed completely so that it doesn’t swing shut and scare them). Entice your kitty to go inside by hiding treats and toys in it. It is also best to use a carrier with a removable top so that once you get to the vet; they can be examined in their carrier with the top off.
6. Use Pheromones
Pheromones are substance that animals produce to communicate with one another. Some of these pheromones can be used to help reduce stress in our pets. Two products in particular can be very effective. Feliway is a copy of the pheromone cats produce near their whiskers and use to mark their territory. Adaptil is a copy of the pheromone that female dogs give off immediately after birth to calm their puppies. These products come in a variety of forms such as plug-in diffusers, sprays, collars and wipes. They can be used in carriers, cars, and even at the vet’s office to help calm your pet.
7. Don’t Fear Medication
If your pet is already very afraid of the vet and needs to be seen, there may not be time to train them not to be scared. It is okay to use anti-anxiety medications or sedatives to make your pet’s trip to the vet a safe and happy one. Many pet parents are afraid of sedation, but these medications are generally very safe. In fact, extremely fearful animals can easily injure themselves by struggling so it is safer to use sedation in these animals rather then trying to forcefully restrain them. Muscling through an exam with a fearful pet can also be emotionally traumatizing and worsen their fear for future visits. Ask your vet for a sedative that can be given at home before your visit.
Going to the vet doesn’t have to be stressful and scary for you or your pet. With some patience and training, your dog may even look forward to it (and your cat may not try to claw your face off).