By Dr. Beth Engelbert, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
The veterinary office can seem scary to pets. Most offices try to minimize stress but training can be done at home to help improve the veterinary experience.
For many pets, stress starts with the carrier. Smaller pets may only go into the carrier for vet visits. Carriers should be viewed as safe places. Association with positive things like food, treats, and toys should start at home. Having a soft bed and using pheromone sprays can encourage the pet to enter the carrier on its own. Rewarding the pet whenever it goes in willingly is necessary.
Many pets, especially cats, hate the car ride. Desensitization starts with the pet exploring the car while it is not running. Pets should not roam free while driving, so the carrier or a harness is part of the next step. As they become relaxed, the car can be started. Once they are OK with the running car, take them on short drives. During these exercises feed treats or other delicious foods.
The smell of the veterinary clinic can be offensive to pets. Getting a few cotton balls with the clinic’s disinfectant can be helpful. At home the container can be opened and your pet allowed to smell the cotton balls. Treats or food should be given so the pet associates good things with that smell.
Teaching the pet to accept being on a cold, slippery table is helpful as well as getting the pet used to full-body handling. Teaching pets to lay on their sides or allowing light restraint goes a long way. These are not natural positions for pets but they can be trained as a trick.
Fasting your pet prior to the appointment may make them more receptive to treats in the office. Certain treats can be a great distraction for temperature taking, injections, and sometimes even nail trimming.
Owner reactions also contribute to how pets behave during visits. Pets sense if their owners are anxious and become anxious themselves. Some owners over comfort their pets. Sometimes saying, “It’s OK,” is telling them it is OK to be scared. Calm, confident owners can relieve some anxiety.
Leash control is important as well. Too loose a leash allows the pet to pace and build anxiety. Too tight a leash can cause distress. A pet that will sit or stand with a short but loose leash will be more relaxed.
It may take time and patience to help a pet overcome its fears. Sometimes even making visits just for treats and attention can be good.
Some pets can still be aggressive even with desensitization, in which case anti-anxiety medication or sedation can and should be used. New medications have been developed and are safer than ever. Talk with your veterinarian for a specific plan for your pet.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.