When your pet misbehaves or shows intense fear and anxiety during their veterinary visit, annual care can feel like an unnecessary hassle. You may find yourself making excuses for postponing your pet’s yearly exam and vaccines, especially if they look healthy.
Don’t let your pet’s stress keep them from Angels Camp & Mother Lode Veterinary Hospitals. Instead, let us improve their experience with these tips for a stress-free veterinary visit.
#1: Don’t change your behavior or routine before a veterinary visit
Pets are masters at sensing our moods and energy. Avoid the temptation to give your pet a bath, start brushing their teeth, train them, or trim their nails before your appointment, unless they are a normal part of your routine. While you may want your pet to look their best, know that sudden and abnormal activities—which can be stressful on their own—are a red flag to your pet that something’s afoot.
Instead, stay calm, and maintain a normal schedule. Before your pet’s appointment, exercise them, so they will be satisfied and tired. Play is a natural stress-reliever, and is good for you both.
#2: Discuss your concerns with the veterinarian
If you’re concerned about your pet’s visit, we encourage you to call ahead to discuss their behavior. When we know about your pet’s stress, our team can make special accommodations for their appointment, including:
- Preparing the room with all necessary supplies, to eliminate unnecessary disturbances
- Having extra special treats ready
- Altering our examination order, to suit your pet’s likes and dislikes
- Limiting visual contact with other hospital pets and clients
- Prescribing anti-anxiety medication for your pet, to take before their visit
#3: Help your cat love their carrier
When you return home from a stressful vet visit, you and your cat are equally relieved to see the carrier—a symbol of struggle and fear—returned to the basement or garage. Unfortunately, this only heightens your cat’s distress for the next time. Rather than allowing the carrier to represent negative memories, help your cat learn to love their space with a little rebranding:
- Set the carrier near your cat’s favorite resting place.
- Place cozy bedding sprayed with Feliway inside.
- Elevate the carrier slightly for more appeal.
- Place treats, catnip, or toys inside, to encourage your cat to check out the carrier.
- Gradually feed your cat nearby, and eventually inside.
Keep the carrier in your cat’s environment. Cats are highly territorial, and once they recognize an object as their own that can provide comfort and security, they will see the carrier as their home away from home.
#4: Teach your pet to value handling and touch
Many owners are surprised to learn that physical restraint—not an injection or procedure—is what pets resent the most. Being hugged, held, or otherwise restricted is threatening for dogs and cats, and triggers their natural flight, fight, or freeze response.
Help your pet overcome their fear by pairing touch with tasty treats. When your pet is calm and relaxed, gently touch a non-threatening area (e.g., chest, back), and immediately reward them with a high value treat. Repeat several times, gradually progressing to more sensitive areas (e.g., feet, tail, abdomen, head). Build up intensity and duration slowly, so you don’t frighten your pet.
#5: Bring a hungry pet
Pets with an empty stomach are less likely to experience motion sickness during the car ride, and will be more food-motivated for rewards during their visit. Hungry pets are easier to distract during uncomfortable situations, such as the physical examination, and more willing to obey commands, such as “Sit,” “Down,” and “Stay.” This will not only improve the veterinarian’s ability to assess your pet, but also provide the pet with a positive focus.
#6: Introduce pet calming aids at home and bring them to your appointment
The rise in pet anxiety disorders has increased the availability of calming aids, which can include:
- Supplements — For example, Soliquin or Zylkene
- Pheromone sprays — Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats can be sprayed on a bandana or bedding.
- Essential oils — Chamomile and lavender can be helpful for dogs, but essential oils can be dangerous when used improperly, so always consult your veterinarian.
- Pressure wraps or shirts — Gentle, steady pressure can relieve pet anxiety.
- Familiar items from home — A small bed, mat, or favorite toy can comfort your pet.
#7: Help your dog learn that muzzles are a good thing
If your pet has historically required a muzzle for treatment or handling, purchase an Adjustable Mesh Dog Muzzle, and teach your pet to wear it at home. Most dogs are less frightened by mesh muzzles, which do not restrict breathing or panting. Pair short sessions with muzzle-friendly treats, such as spray cheese, peanut butter or yogurt from a pouch, or wet food in a tube, that can be easily delivered.
Conquering pet stress, anxiety, and fear is a long process that requires patience and understanding. Take a slow approach over several weeks or months preceding your appointment for the best outcome. For questions or recommendations on how we can improve your pet’s visit, contact Angels Camp Veterinary Hospital or Mother Lode Veterinary Hospital.