Many pets become uneasy when they visit the veterinary clinic, whether it’s their regular family veterinarian or an animal emergency hospital. Odd smells, different noises, new pets, and different people all create stress and anxiety. Combine new surroundings with less-than-pleasant experiences, such as vaccinations, nail trims, or ear cleanings, and it’s no wonder that many pets aren’t overjoyed to visit their veterinarian. To help ease your furry friend’s fear, anxiety, and stress during veterinary visits—making them happier and our jobs easier—try the following seven tips.
#1: Schedule “happy visits” for your pet
Happy visits are a simple way to help your pet form a positive relationship with your veterinary hospital. Armed with your pet’s favorite treats, pick a slow time of day to stop in at your family veterinarian’s office. Reward your furry friend for stepping on the scale and saying hello to the team, and then head for home—no needles, no nail trims, and no ear cleanings. Soon, your pet will be pulling you into the animal hospital, rather than digging in her paws at the door.
#2: Accustom your pet to being handled for procedures
Many pets are content to be petted and adored, but immediately tense when the veterinary team gets down to business, because they’ve learned that restraint may indicate something potentially unpleasant, such as an injection. Practice with your pet at home to teach her that holding still is rewarded with a treat jackpot. Ask your veterinary team to show you how they normally hold your pet for procedures, and then practice that hold at home, which will make nail trims and injections less stressful and anxiety-inducing for your furry pal.
#3: Teach your pet that trimming nails can be fun
In your pet’s eyes, no veterinary experience is worse than nail trims. Many pets do not appreciate having their paws handled—they may have been quicked and hurt in the past, which makes them more sensitive. Although we are an animal emergency hospital, many pet owners request that we trim their sick pet’s nails, taking advantage of the situation, and seeking professional assistance for a task they avoid doing at home.
To help your dog learn that nail trims can be fun, first teach her to shake paws, rewarding her each time she lets you hold her paw. Build up to clipping one nail per paw shake, followed by a hefty reward. You can also use peanut butter, spray cheese, or canned food to distract your pooch while you trim her nails. Bribe cats with tuna or canned food, and some kitties also enjoy spray cheese. Cats are a little more difficult, as you have to press on their paws to extend their nails, but going slowly and rewarding well will help teach your cat that nail trims are fun.
#4: Routinely clean your pet’s ears to prevent a painful ear infection
We often see pets who are miserable with excruciating ear infections that prevent them and their owner from sleeping, but mild ear infections also can be painful, although they usually can wait till you visit your family veterinarian. Stay on top of your pet’s ear hygiene by creating an ear-cleaning schedule. Cleaning your pet’s ears regularly before they become painful from infection will build a positive foundation, and ensure that treatment at home is less stressful for you and your pet. Always reward your pet for cooperating during an ear cleaning. A Kong filled with peanut butter or spray cheese can be a wonderful distraction for your pet, plus it’s rewarding.
#5: Train your cat to love the carrier
For many cats, simply seeing their carrier come out can trigger a fear response, as they’ve learned that the carrier equals a veterinary visit. Avoid the stress of shoving your cat in a carrier by teaching her that the carrier means good things, such as catnip, treats, and toys. Leave the carrier out in your home, occasionally leaving goodies inside for your cat to discover. Feeding your cat in her carrier will also help her form a positive association, and prevent her from hiding under the bed when she sees it come out.
#6: Use pheromones or calming supplements to help ease your pet’s stress
Regardless of how much training you do at home before a veterinary visit, your pet may still experience some stress and anxiety. For mild cases, try calming pheromones or supplements to soothe your pet’s fears. Feliway and Adaptil are designed to mimic relaxing pheromones for cats and dogs, respectively, and can work well when sprayed on a favorite blanket in your cat’s carrier, or a bandana tied around your dog’s neck. A wide variety of calming supplements that can help ease your pet’s anxiety also are available. We recommend discussing the best options for your furry friend with your family veterinarian.
#7: Ask your veterinarian for pre-visit medications to relax your pet
While a visit to our animal emergency hospital is unscheduled, you can plan ahead for your pet’s regular veterinary visits. For pets with more pronounced fear, anxiety, and stress when visiting a new place, pre-visit medications can stop fear before it can escalate. Although we, or your family veterinarian, can sedate your pet with an injection after she arrives, she’s often already anxious, and we would much rather keep your pet calm and relaxed with medication you give at home before you leave.
When your family veterinarian can’t be available, we can treat your pet for any emergency—give us a call. After following the above tips, your furry friend will take her medicine like a champ.