By Dr. Elizabeth Knabe, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
Recently in veterinary medicine, there has been a realization that we need to be treating our patients’ minds as well as their bodies. Pets have emotional states, and studies show that the brain can be permanently changed with prolonged fear.
The short-term fear of a real threat is not harmful if the pet can get away from it. Fear that is prolonged and out of the animal’s control, such as what may occur in a veterinary visit, can be maladaptive. It is harmful to the pet, and this is what we are striving to reduce.
Taking care of the cat or dog’s emotional well-being can help its physical state as well. The pain of minor procedures may be less in calm pets. Also, owners will be more relaxed, which results in more cooperative pets.
Low stress actually begins at home. There are things owners can do to help deliver a pet that is calm for its visit.
For cats it can help to get the carrier out days before a visit, and start feeding the cat near it or even in it. This gets the cat to associate its carrier with something comforting like food.
Withhold food — but not water — after 6 p.m. the night before a morning visit, unless there are medical reasons it needs to eat. Give a light morning meal if the visit is in the afternoon. Veterinary staff can offer tasty treats before and during the visit, and a hungry pet is more accepting of them than one that is full.
Also at home people can apply pheromones for dogs and cats. These are substances that can elicit calm when they are sprayed or wiped on surfaces to which the pets will be exposed.
When preparing to drive to the veterinarian, it is best to avoid getting the pet excited. Talk in a regular voice in the car, and avoid baby talk to the pet. When a stressed, anxious pet hears baby talk, it thinks its owner is approving its behaviors. Play soothing music in the car, and keep it at a low volume. Pets hear better than people can, and when they are stressed, their senses are even more acute.
Finally, the pet arrives at the veterinary hospital. The technicians and assistants will assess a pet’s emotional state and will get the pet into an exam room to minimize exposures to other pets and people. They will provide multiple small treats before, during, and after the exam. Even if a pet does not eat the treat, the aroma of something good can help the mind. These are just some of the ideas for a topic that is becoming more and more important.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.