I’d love to think that this is what’s going through the minds of pets who need a check-up (and hopefully their owners as well), but I live in the real world. Many of my patients would be just as happy to never see my smiling face! Many of my clients use their pets fear of going to the vet as an excuse to never take them in for the care they truly need.
Making Your Pet More Comfortable When Visiting the Vet
I’m going to cover some ways to make your pets (and yourselves!) more comfortable with their vet trips.
Get Them Used to Being Handled
One of the best things you can do with your pet, especially when they’re young, is to get them used to being handled at home. Spend some time handling their feet, ears and mouth, and I mean “handling” not “playing with”. Make it a positive experience and reward them with a special treat, extra attention or playtime. This will make them more relaxed for their exams in the clinic when a stranger is doing it.
Get Them Used to the Car
Getting them to the clinic is often the biggest barrier. I have more than a few appointments that get cancelled every week because the pet (usually a cat) has decided that they’d rather not come in, if that’s ok. I don’t blame them! If they only ride in the car to go to the vet to be poked and prodded, why on Earth would they want to get into the car? The same thing applies to cat carriers. If the carrier only appears on the day of their appointment, most cats will see it and immediately head for their favourite hiding spot.
So let’s get them used to the car. You don’t want to push your pet and stress them out, so go slowly. Put your pet in the car, give them a treat and then let them out again. Keep doing it until they think the car is the BEST place ever. Then up the ante.
Take your pet on really short trips around the block, remembering to make it a positive experience and reward their good behaviour. As you build up their tolerance you can make the trips longer and longer. If you have a dog, end the occasional trip at a new park or somewhere else fun.
Get Them Used to the Carrier
Now let’s get them used to their carrier. If you have a pet who will be travelling in a carrier, leave it out at home all the time. This should be a safe space for them. Allow them to nap in it, or even take their meals in it sometimes. That way it’s not this horrible object to fear, but a comfortable hang-out. If it only shows up when it’s time to head for the vet it’s a much scarier prospect.
If you need some help getting your pet to calm down in the car or carrier there are some great pheromone products (Adaptil for dogs, Feliway for cats) that do a great job of helping some pets relax. Thunder shirts are another great option for dogs.
If you’ve got a bird or a pocket pet, hopefully you’ve got a small travelling cage they are used to staying in while you clean their main environment. This is a great option for taking them to the vet in. It’s hard to get these beasties to be calm when they travel, but a familiar environment will definitely help.
Head to the Clinic for a “Happy Visit”
Once they’re happy with the car and the carrier, it’s time to up the ante and head for the clinic. I’m a big fan of a pets first visit being a “happy” visit. No exam, no vaccines, just a meet and greet. Bring them by the clinic for some belly rubs and some treats. Vet clinics are chock full of crazy pet lovers! We’ll shower your pet with love and attention so they’ll be begging you to bring them in again!
Keeping Your Pet Calm and Relaxed
At the clinic, the best way to keep your pet calm and relaxed is to have them under control. Keep your dog on a leash so you can keep them away from pets who aren’t as relaxed and happy as they are. There’s nothing worse for a cat than a friendly dog trying to stuff their face in their carrier to say hi!
If you have a cat who is terrified of dogs, you may want to find a clinic that only serves cats. If you’re at a typical multi-species clinic, let the staff know that you have a scaredy cat. They can put you into an exam room as soon as you arrive. You can let your cat out, let them explore, stretch their legs and even use the litter box in peace.
Some clinics will have dog or cat-only hours to avoid the co-mingling of species. This isn’t quite as stress free as a cat only clinic will be (because the cats will still be able to smell the dogs) but it’s a great option.
In The Exam Room
OK, so you’ve made it safe and relatively sound, you’re ensconced in the exam room and the vet arrives, possibly with an assistant in tow. Many people like to hold their pets in the exam room, and if your pet is being cooperative that is completely OK. However, if your pet is nervous and squirmy, it might be better to let the staff restrain them. The staff at vet clinics are very well trained and can restrain your pet in a safe manner that allows your vet to give them a thorough exam. If you’re nervous, your pet is going to pick up on that. I even have a few patients I see who are terrors with their owners, but calm right down when I take them away to the treatment room. Just like human kids, some fur kids are much more polite with strangers than with their families!
If your dog needs a muzzle, don’t be offended. Pets behaviour in the clinic is going to be much different than at home. Most of the time we’re using the muzzle as a distraction, so your dog has something else to worry about than what the human in the white coat is up to. Plus, nobody likes to be bitten. Vets are very good about picking up on behaviours that owners may not be aware of…if your vet recommends a muzzle for your dog, just go with it. Nothing ruins my day more than being bitten!
Things to Keep in Mind
Speaking of your nerves, it’s just as important that you’re calm and relaxed at the clinic. The more stressed you are, the more stressed your pet will be. I recommend arriving in plenty of time for your appointment so you don’t feel rushed, ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable with what your vet is recommending, and ask for an estimate before giving the OK for any treatments.
Now even with all this training and preparation, your pet may still be stressed out by their visits.
Talk to your vet about the pros and cons of medication to help your pet relax, or look into getting a house-call vet so you can avoid the trip to the clinic altogether.