Many loving and well-meaning pet owners skip veterinary visits because of the stress the visits cause their pets. The only time these owners take their pets to the vet is when the pets are sick or injured, and that makes the visit all the more stressful. Because preventative care is so important, let’s discuss ways to make your vet visits more positive experiences for both you and your pets.
1. Carrier/crate training
Many people only put their pets in carriers in order to transport them to the vet’s office. Animals quickly learn that carriers = vet visits; vet visits = strange scents, unfamiliar people, and painful procedures. Therefore, in a pet’s mind, carrier = discomfort. Many pets run and hide at the sight of a carrier.
Make the carrier a happy, positive place. Leave the carrier out on days when you are not going to the vet’s office. Feed yummy treats or even meals in their carrier or crate. Soon, your pet will begin to associate happy things with the crate, and that can greatly reduce your furry friend’s anxiety.
2. Car training
Imagine being in a small moving box (carrier) when, suddenly, a semi-truck blares its horn. What if you feel nauseated every time you are in the moving box? The stress of a car ride can add greatly to the stress of being confined in a carrier or crate.
Try to create positive experiences in the car. Start with sitting in the car and giving your pet his favorite treats without ever turning on the car engine. Slowly increase your car time to include a trip around the block. Then, drive down the road and back, gradually working up to longer trips. Eventually, add a special visit to the pet store or dog park as a reward!
This type of training takes just a small amount of work on your part, but the rewards of happier travel experiences will be well worth the effort!
3. Using pheromone sprays
You can use products such as Safety Zone, Feliway, or Adaptil to calm your pet in stressful situations. These products contain pheromone-like blends of herbs and oils that help animals feel safe and secure. You can spray these products in the carrier or on a blanket. You can also apply it to a bandanna that your pet can wear to help reduce anxiety.
At Countrycare Animal Complex, we use some of these same products in the exam rooms to help relax your pet during his veterinary visit.
4. “Hello” visits to the clinic
Help your pet realize that not all vet visits result in vaccines or surgical procedures! You can take your pet in for a “hello” visit. Take your pet to your vet’s office to just say “hi.” Have the vet staff give your pet some belly rubs or chin scratches. Give your pet some tasty treats and then head home for the day. This helps to reaffirm to your pet that coming to the vet can be fun!
5. Home Handling
Reducing your pet’s stress and anxiety starts at home. Rub your pet’s feet, ears, and face. Tickle her toes. Gently put your fingers in her mouth to look at her teeth. These actions can seem like playtime to your pet, but they are getting your pet ready for exams at the vet’s office.
If someone only touches your pet’s mouth when she has a dental abscess, she will quickly associate human touch and veterinary visits to pain and anxiety. If you routinely massage your pet’s feet, ears, muzzle, and more, your pet will be accustomed to the handling. In addition, when you are familiar with your pet’s body, you will be able to detect any changes or abnormalities as soon as they develop.
6. Stay Calm
Animals can definitely feel and respond to our own personal anxiety levels. If veterinary visits cause you stress, your pet will pick up on and mirror that emotion. Take a deep breath and try to maintain a relaxed demeanor before and during the appointment. If you have success with carrier training and car rides, it will be easier for you feel at peace with the actual appointments.
7. Skip a meal
If your appointment is close to your pet’s mealtime, wait to feed her until after your vet visit. Treats are more interesting to a pet that is hungry. If she enjoys getting treats, your pet will begin to associate vet visits with yummy snacks. Soon, your pet will learn that vet visits = loving attention and treats! This association will go a long way in reducing the stress of veterinary visits.
You can minimize your pet’s stress and anxiety about his trip to the vet. Remember, it won’t happen in a day, but with work, time, and some positive reinforcement (and treats), it can be done. You can help to reduce your pet’s stress and make his tail wag or her heart purr for another visit to see the vet! In turn, regular visits to your veterinarian can ensure that you and your pet enjoy as many healthy years together as possible.
Dr. Heintz is a small and exotic animal veterinarian at Countrycare Animal Complex in Green Bay, WI. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. Her passion is helping all animals, whether furry, scaly, or feathered, lead long and healthy lives.