Anxiety and Veterinary Visits

It’s normal for pets to be anxious when they visit the vet, right?  While common, it should not be accepted as a norm.  Dr. Marty Becker has been an advocate and champion for “Fear Free” veterinary visits and has helped usher this new initiative into practices today.  Low-stress visits are possible when you and your veterinarian work together as a team.

In a Bayer Veterinary Healthcare Usage study, 37% of dog owners and 58% of cat owners said their pets hate going to the vet.  They also found that 26% of dog owners and 38% of cat owners said that just thinking about going to the vet was stressful.  This number can reduce or delay visits that could impact the health of a pet.

The first step in creating reduced stress for veterinary visits is to be able to recognize signs of anxiety in your pet.  Pet parents and their healthcare team should be able to identify these signs to be able to cater to the pet’s emotions and provide them with appropriate coping mechanisms.

Signs of anxiety in dogs include:

  • Panting, whining, trembling, pacing
  • Shedding, self-grooming
  • Yawning, licking lips, drooling
  • Hiding, freezing, cowering
  • Difficulty getting pet in car

Signs of anxiety in cats include:

  • Clinging to their pet parent
  • Avoiding eye contact, cowering
  • Hissing, growling, vocalization
  • Ears lower or flattened
  • Difficulty getting cat in carrier

Now that we know what to look for, we can create environments both at home and at the animal hospital that encourage a low-stress visit.  At home, get your pet used to their carrier.  A lot of times pet parents only bring the carrier out when the pet is getting ready to go to the vet.  The carrier then becomes an anxiety trigger for your pet.  If possible, keep your pet’s carrier out and leave the door open to allow them to explore it whenever they want.  If this is not possible, bring the carrier out at least a few days before your scheduled appointment to allow them time to adjust to seeing it.  When you are ready to put your pet in the car, cover the carrier and place it on a flat surface in the car.  Remember that your pet is often not secured in the car like we are, and the movement of even the calmest car ride can make your pet feel uneasy.

Food motivated pets should not be fed the meal before their scheduled appointment to encourage acceptance of treats at the vet.  This can help create a bond with the veterinary staff and earn them some “brownie points” with your pet.  Animal hospitals that utilize low-stress techniques will often use pheromones and specific music that is made to calm cats and dogs.  Another tip is to take trips to your vet for “happy visits.”  These are used to help desensitize your pet and will allow them to interact with the veterinary staff without any poking or prodding.  Your pet can receive treats and love from the staff, and then go home.  This will help create a sense of trust and familiarity with the hospital.

Finally, Dr. Marty Becker, offers the introduction of medication to help relieve pet’s anxiety when this cannot be achieved through more natural methods.  The ultimate goal is to create veterinary visits that produce the least amount of stress as possible, for all parties involved.

At Caring Hands Animal Hospital, we utilize various creative ways to create low-stress visits such as frozen peanut butter or apple sauce treats, “Through A Dogs Ear” and “Through A Cat’s Ear” music, synthetic pheromones, and low-stress handling techniques.  We are also currently going through the certification process to become officially registered as “Fear Free” hospitals.

By Rachel Ray, Caring Hands Animal Hospital


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