You know that knot you get in your stomach when you think about your next physical or turn in the dentist’s chair? You know it’s good for you – but you really (really!) don’t want to go. Now, imagine what your pets think when they go to the vet: they don’t know why on earth their best friend has turned on them, forcing them into this strange place. All they know is that it smells funny and there may be shots involved. If a trip to the vet is coming up, how can you relieve the stress and anxiety for your cat or dog?
A Little Prep Work
Dogs and cats both tend to dislike the vet. Why? Because vets are mean, awful people who are out to hurt them? Of course not! It’s because they don’t like the unknown, the unfamiliar. They may get scared when humans poke and prod them. To help allay this apprehension, get your pets used to touch.
Starting when they’re young, touch their ears, paws, and toes. Progress to opening their mouths and rubbing their gums. Remember your most powerful training tools: praise and treats. When they cooperate with you, give them both (with an extra helping of praise).
Also, work with your pets to familiarize them with their carriers. This is especially critical for cats; often, the only time they have to use them is when they’re headed to the vet. This associates the carrier with something they perceive as unpleasant. To conquer this, teach pets to associate it with enjoyment. Let your dog or cat use the carrier as a resting/napping spot. Reward them while they’re inside with treats and praise.
Tip for cat owners: many dogs love a good road trip and bringing Fido on errands is no big deal. For most cats, however, cars are not part of their usual routine. And guess what? They hate things that are not part of their usual routine! Get them used to the car gradually, just as you do their carriers. Start with short trips (5 minutes or so) and increase the duration.
One of the best ways to relieve the stress of going to the vets? Going more often! This teaches them that the vet is nothing to fear and that they’ll receive plenty of rewards for going. Hint, hint. Schedule regular checkups and ensure all vaccinations remain up-to-date.
Before the Appointment
Your pets take their cues from you. Your anxiety or nervousness signals to them that something is wrong; they should be worried. Try to remain calm. It’s a great idea to get some of those nerves out of the way by playing with your pet before you go to the vet. This’ll reduce your stress, which in turn reduces theirs.
At the Vet’s Office
Remain calm! If you have a cat, it’s best to keep her in her carrier to avoid excessive agitation. If you have a dog, limit socialization. In the doc’s office, these caring professionals will likely take a few minutes to “break the ice” with your furry friend. They’ll talk to them and pet them. This is great; it will put your pet at ease and make the appointment go much more smoothly.
Tip for dog owners: Your natural inclination is to soothe an anxious dog. Well, this may hinder the process more than help. By speaking gently and petting him, you’re reinforcing his behaviour. That is, you’re telling him that it’s ok for him to be scared. So he’ll be scared. If you act like this is no big deal, he’ll settle down and follow suit.
Tell your vet about any changes in your pet’s health or concerns that you have. You are the voice for your dog or cat, so speak up for them! Additionally, ask about nutrition, exercise, and socialization tips.
After a successful visit to the vet, reward your pet with a favourite treat and a good snuggle. They’ve earned it (and so have you!).
With a little prep work and a lot of calm, you can conquer vet-phobia. They may not love going, but they will face appointments with much less anxiety, stress, and protests!