My furry family and I have been making a lot of trips to the veterinarian’s office lately.
A few weeks ago I took my cat, Bucky, in for a check-up. Confession: It had been four years since I last took him to the vet. But in my defense, the last time I took him in he hissed, bit and clawed at the vet tech and got a dreaded “flag” in his record. So you can imagine how much I was looking forward to the sequel.
Then last week we had to rush our dog Teddy to the emergency animal hospital after he ate a vast quantity of kitty litter and became violently ill. Usually a friendly, happy-go-lucky fellow, Ted turns into a shrieking, howling, thrashing terror at the first touch of a needle.
At least I know I’m not alone. I’ve heard similar horror stories from friends and co-workers. So what can you do to calm your pet’s anxiety before and during a trip to the doctor? Here are some tips I’ll try next time:
Before your trip
- Don’t let your pet associate his carrier or car trips only with vet visits. Drive to the dog park or pet supply store once a week. Sprinkle your cat’s carrier with catnip and keep it out where she can get acquainted with it.
- Get your dog or cat used to the feeling of a vet exam. Place him on a low table or counter and mimic what a vet would do during an exam, such as feeling their belly or looking at their teeth.
- Socialize your dog with trips to the dog park or play dates with friends’ dogs before bringing him to the vet’s office, as he will likely encounter other animals in the waiting room.
- Make an appointment to bring your pet into the vet’s office for a meet and greet — no probing exams or vaccinations! Bring treats for the staff to give to your pet to create a positive atmosphere. If your vet is open to it, do this a few times a year. It’s a great opportunity to ask the doctor questions while your pet gets petted and praised.
- For especially fearful pets, work up to entering the building by first making a trip to check out the lawn. On your next visit, walk to the front door and allow your pet to sniff the entrance to the building. Next, try entering the lobby and greeting the staff. Go at your pet’s pace and you’ll eventually make it all the way to the exam room.
- Take your dog for a long walk or jog before a vet visit (if she isn’t sick or injured). It’ll wear her out and make them more relaxed in the office.
During your trip
- Consider waiting outside or going for a short walk if a waiting room full of other animals makes your pet nervous. Check in with the receptionist, give her your cell phone number and ask her to call you when an exam room is ready.
- When it’s time for an exam or other procedure, stay calm. Your anxiety can worsen theirs.
- Bring your pet’s favorite treats and give them to her when she behaves well at the vet’s office.
- If your pet seems to connect with a particular veterinarian or vet technician, request him or her the next time you visit.
- Always alert staff members if your dog or cat is prone to biting or scratching. It can feel embarrassing, but it gives them an opportunity to take precautions to protect themselves and your pet. A muzzle might be necessary in some cases.
Of course, not all of these tactics will work on all pets. Ask your vet for additional suggestions. He or she should be willing to work with you to make office visits less traumatizing for everyone involved.
And, in case you were wondering, both our animals are totally fine. Bucky is healthy (though he could stand to lose a pound or two), and from now on I’ll be taking him back to the vet once a year to make sure he stays that way. Teddy has made a full recovery and I’ve moved the litter box to a more secure location to avoid future kitty litter binges.