Note: Statistically, cats are more likely to experience fear, anxiety, and stress related to vet visits, so this post applies to felines too. However, I’ve written several posts about cat health of late, so this one is just focused on dogs. More about easing your feline’s fears coming soon.
Maybe you’re lucky enough to have one of those dogs that just loves going to the vet. For these dogs, a trip to visit their vet is just another exciting adventure, and they’re just as happy showing up at his office as they would be making the rounds at the local dog park.
Many other dogs, though, are at the other end of the spectrum. Just the sight of the crate they ride in on the way to the vet may be enough to send them cowering to the nearest corner with their tails between their legs. As a matter of fact, anxiety is one of the reasons some dog parents don’t take their dogs in for wellness check ups as often as they should.
Since regular preventive care is paws down the best way to head off potential health problems, nothing should stand in the way of making sure that your dog sees his vet at least once a year. Twice a year if recommended. In the long run, putting him through a bit of stress “for the greater good” is a far better option than avoiding medical care that will keep him healthy. Wouldn’t it be better, though, if you could take his anxiety out of the picture?
Introducing the Fear Free℠ Initiative
Even if your dog suffers from anxiety triggered by a visit to the vet, there are ways to lessen, or even eliminate, his fear. I’m a big fan of the Fear Free℠ Initiative, developed for vet practices by Dr. Marty Becker, “America’s Veterinarian.” It promotes a considerate approach and gentle control techniques used in a calming environment, making the veterinary experience less frightening and more rewarding for all involved.
Ask your family vet if they have Fear Free℠ Certified Professionals on their team. If not, ask them to visit FearFreePets.com.
Ideally, both you and your veterinary team work together to make the experience a little less fur-raising. Here are some tips for pet parents that I learned from Dr. Becker during his presentation at BlogPaws (a pet bloggers conference) earlier this year.
5 Steps to Fear Free Vet Visits (for the pet parent)
Taking away your dog’s anxiety begins well before the day of his vet appointment. It is important to make sure that he associates the whole process of going to the vet with fun, relaxing, and calming events.
1. Keep his crate out in the open.
If you only pull your dog’s crate out of storage immediately before a trip to the vet, he’ll take one look at it and want to run in the opposite direction. A far better option would be to leave it out for him to explore and get comfortable with. Throw in a yummy treat every once in awhile so that he comes to associate it with things he enjoys.
2. Take him for rides.
If going to the vet makes your dog nervous, and the only time he ever rides in the car is when he is on his way there, then his anxiety will start as soon as the ride begins. However, if you take him for rides in the car that end at places he enjoys, like the park or the beach, then getting in the car will be something he looks forward to.
3. Visit the vet for fun.
Arrange to bring your dog into the vet’s office every once in awhile when he doesn’t need shots or any other medical procedures. Make it relaxing and fun, and make sure that he gets a couple of treats. This can go a long way towards eliminating his fear when he is there for a regular appointment.
4. Prepare the crate for the trip.
When the time comes to take your dog to the vet, make sure that the crate he will be riding in is comfortable and homey. Give him a non-slip blanket or some familiar bedding to lie on, and make sure he has a favorite toy or two to keep him occupied. You can even go one step further and scent his bedding with a calming pheromone or a relaxing essential oil like lavender.
5. Use stress relievers – for your pet, not you :)
Speaking of pheromones and lavender, there are literally hundreds of calming tools available that may help your pooch chill out before the trip. Synthetic pheromones, aromatherapy, music and anxiety wraps, are just a few that pet parents swear by as anxiety relievers. Personally, I use the Calmz Pet Anxiety Relief System for my dog Chilly. It’s brand new and clinical testing shows it works for about 70 percent of dogs. (Full disclosure, I am a spokesperson for Calmz, but I never preach about products I don’t believe in!)
Trips to the vet don’t have to be traumatic. With a little planning you can greatly reduce your dog’s anxiety, and maybe even achieve completely Fear Free vet visits!