Let’s face it, visiting the vet could feel to your dog like visiting the dentist feels to many of us!
Dragging an unwilling dog through the door, then trying to stop her panting, pacing, and barking at everything that moves, is stressful for both of you.
Your puppy’s first visits to the vet will have involved being stabbed with needles and possibly having things stuck up her nose or her bum or down her throat. If not carefully managed - giving your pup a reason to enjoy the visits - this can turn into a fear of the vet.
And if you have a rehomed dog, she may have had unfortunate experiences at the vets in the past. She may have been afraid and then punished for her fear.
If you can ensure your dog enjoys her visit to the vet, then life is going to be much easier on future visits - and, of course, that’s exactly what vets and their staff want too! It’s no fun for them to wrestle with a distressed dog when they need to examine and administer treatment fast.
The more relaxed your dog is, the easier it will be for the vet to examine, assess, and treat her. If your dog is injured in an accident, you want her to feel as comfortable as possible in order to recover quickly - not be stressed and terrified. You’ll already be distressed and upset yourself, and anxiety is very “catching”. If you know your dog is ok with vet visit procedures this will be one less thing to worry about.
So let’s look at a few things which will turn your vet visit into a happy adventure:
1. Be prepared
Take your dog’s mat or bed or some other kind of “security blanket” - perhaps a favourite cuddly toy - which will relax her. If this is a routine visit you can also take treats, chews, and food toys for her to enjoy on her mat. Take care that other dogs are at a safe distance where food is involved, just in case.
2. Party time - not
A vet visit is not a doggy social occasion! By all means, chat to the others in the waiting room. Just be sure your dog doesn’t join in the conversation. Take a place well away from the main door with all its frantic comings and goings.
3. Cats and rabbits in their cages
are already disorientated and apprehensive - they don’t need a big snuffly nose at their cage door, frightening the living daylights out of them!
4. Other dogs in the waiting room
Why are they there? They may be contagious, or hopping with parasites, so you don’t want any contact between your pet and them. Or they may be frightened, or in pain, and will not welcome attention from your dog (or, possibly, from you). If you’re in pain and someone starts badgering you, there’s a good chance you’ll snap at them! Dogs are no different. I have seen the unpleasant consequences of a puppy being allowed to jump up on such a dog. Keep your eye on your dog and your lead short, and don’t get distracted chatting to someone.
5. A long wait
If your appointment is delayed because the vet has an emergency - and the waiting room is heaving with miaowing, whining, squawking, and barking, customers - leave your mobile number with the receptionist and head off for a walk. There’s no need to spend twenty minutes working hard to keep your dog calm if it can be avoided.
6. Park your Dog
When you’re occupied with the staff - sorting your bill or getting instructions for your meds - a good place to put your dog is between your feet. Stand on the lead so he can’t wander off.
7. Take your time
You can ask to bring your fearful dog in at the beginning or the end of surgery times and possibly through a back entrance, avoiding the Waiting Room altogether. When my fearful dog Lacy had to go in for surgery, I requested to stay with her till she had become drowsy. We had a darkened room to ourselves where I read a book while soothing my anxious dog on her mat. By the time the vet nurse led her away she remarked that Lacy was calmer than most “ordinary” dogs. If your vet is really unsympathetic (this is unusual if you’ve explained things in a non-demanding way) you can vote with your feet and find a vet more suited to caring for your dog.
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8. A Greeting? Or an Assault?
Imagine you’re going to visit that dentist. You are standing in reception when the dentist reaches into your mouth and starts poking about inside it. Your reaction? Horror! You need to give someone permission to manhandle you, and when we accept the dentist’s invitation to sit in The Chair, we are giving that permission. In the same way, you can lift your dog onto the examination table for the vet to attend to him, rather than the vet approach him when he’s standing on the floor, turning what the dog thought was going to be a greeting into what seems like an assault. If your dog is large you can ask him to step up onto a chair then onto the table. Involving the patient in the treatment will lessen the stress considerably.
9. Safety first
If you know that your dog is very nervous and given to panic, train her to accept a basket muzzle beforehand. If the vet staff have reason to believe they are going to get bitten, then naturally they will need to muzzle your dog. How much easier if your dog already associates the muzzle with treats and good experiences, and you put the muzzle on her yourself!
10. There is a place for a social visit!
The Vets has a very strong, characteristic smell. You need to associate that smell with good things. Visiting the waiting room on other occasions - when it’s quiet - your dog can have friendly and non-confrontational interactions with staff. Your dog might get some treats for sitting on the scales so you can track her weight, or simply have the chance to snuffle about and learn that the distinctive smell of the vets is just part of life and not doom-laden. In my experience this is something that vet staff welcome. One vet told me, “I wish all my clients did this!” They do not relish having to fight with distressed and panicky dogs who may end up biting! It’s in everyone’s interest for your dog to enjoy vet visits.
Every time we take our dog to the vet we need to be thinking of the next visit. Having a plan and a few props will help you to relax and enjoy the visit too.
And if your dog is especially anxious, this is the free email course for you: