Fear Free Vet Visits for your Vail Valley Pets!
How to Make Your Pet’s Vet Visit Fear-Free
Just like our own visits to the doctor, our pets’ visits to their veterinarian can be extremely stressful. New smells, new people, and a new environment can be overwhelming, in addition to the stress of being given treatments or medications during their appointment. Although our pets may not understand why it is necessary to have regular physical exams, bloodwork, vaccines, etc., we know that it is our responsibility as their owners to have these tests and treatments performed to ensure that our furry family members are in the best possible health. Fortunately, there are simple things you can do at home before your pet even arrives at the veterinary hospital to minimize their stress and anxiety. If needed, your veterinarian can also recommend and prescribe anti-anxiety medications to help keep your pet relaxed and calm during their appointment.
Helping your dog or cat’s veterinary appointment run smoothly starts at home, before you even get ready to hop in the car. Most cats and some small dogs can be transported in carriers appropriate for their size, and it is important that they feel like their carrier is a safe space for them to go. Leaving their carrier in the room they spend the most time in, and filling it with lots of treats/food/blankets/toys etc. can help them adjust to the carrier as a part of their regular daily life. Bringing out the carrier only when they go to the vet or a grooming appointment can lead to fear by association, so helping them feel comfortable with the carrier on normal days when they are not going anywhere is very beneficial. Additionally, it is important for you to remain calm and not appear stressed as our pets pick up signals from us such as fear and anxiety, which in turn makes them feel afraid and defensive. Talking with a soft, calm voice and not being in a hurry will go a very long way in comforting your pet.
For the actual transportation to the vet’s office, it is important to be prepared. If your dog or cat is in a carrier, minimizing the amount of movement they feel and covering at least 3 sides of the carrier with a blanket or towel will help foster a sense of security. The environment of the vehicle in which they are being transported can have a huge effect as well. Playing calm, classical music and using aromatherapies such as calming canine or feline pheromones or lavender-scented essential oils will help provide a relaxing ride. Avoiding large bumps, quick braking, and sharp turns can help decrease any car-sickness your animal may feel during the ride. (You can also ask your veterinarian about anti-nausea medications). Many veterinary clinics are using curbside protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic, which means that calling to let the clinic know you have arrived is usually the best option to keep from moving your pet around more than necessary.
Many pets show even more extreme fear and anxiety signs at their veterinary visit due to various reasons. If your pet shows signs of aggression, inability to be handled or approached, or a combination of severe anxiety signs such as cowering, excessive salivation and lip-licking, pinned ears, etc., your veterinarian may recommend medications to help decrease their anxiety and help their visits to the hospital run as quickly and smoothly as possible. This will also help keep your pet from hurting themselves due to fear and will also prevent injury to the veterinary team caring for your dog or cat. These prescriptions can be one medication or a combination of several medications based on your individual animal’s personality and clinical signs. Many times, the doctor will recommend rescheduling your pet’s appointment for a different day or time so that you can give the prescribed medications at home, usually about 1 hour before their scheduled visit. Occasionally for cats, it is recommended to give the medication/s the night before AND the day of their appointment, due to the feline propensity to become stressed very easily. Surprisingly enough, nail trimming appears to be one of the appointments that can cause the most fear and stress in our dogs and cats, and this is one of the more common appointment types for which fear-free techniques and medications are recommended.
In the end, observing the above recommendations at home and talking with your veterinarian about potential medications can make your pet’s vet visit a much less difficult, stressful experience. Additionally, you can ask your veterinary practice if they allow “fun” visits where your pet gets weighed and simply visits with the staff at the clinic (of course supplemented with lots of treats!) to become more comfortable and familiar with the environment. This also helps them feel like the vet can be an enjoyable place to go if they aren’t getting poked and prodded every time they visit. Please discuss options for a fear-free visit with your veterinarian to see what recommendations may be right for your pet.