Does your cat or dog go into hiding if you so much as whisper the word ‘vet’? Does even a routine check-up fill you and your pet with dread? Is your pet hard to handle when being examined?
As it’s essential that your pet is seen by a vet for routine and emergency care, we’ve put together some of our favourite tips for helping your pet (and you) to have a stress-free visit to the vet.
1. Visit your vet regularly when they won’t need anything invasive done
Often, we only take our pets to see the vet when they’re feeling very unwell. At this time, they may feel more vulnerable than usual and less willing to be touched.
As well as keeping on top of their good health, routine check-up appointments are a great way to familiarise your pet with seeing the vet in a pressure-free situation. A regular weigh-in and general health check doesn’t usually require jabs or any invasive treatments.
You could even talk to the receptionist at your veterinary practice and ask if you and your pet can just hang out in the waiting room to get them used to the sights, sounds and smells.
2. Use a carrier, whenever possible
For their own safety and to keep down their stress levels, smaller dogs, cats and small animals usually need to be securely fastened in a carrier when visiting the vet.
A carrier will also limit their view of the vet’s practice and other animals in the waiting room and give your pet a safe space. Ideally, you should keep your pet in the carrier off the floor and away from larger dogs.
3. Familiarise your pet with their carrier
All too often, we only bring the carrier out when it’s time to visit the vet. This can cause our pets to associate the carrier with stress, injections and/or being handled by a total stranger.
good way to overcome this is to leave your pet’s carrier out and about where they can interact with it on some days that won’t involve a vet visit. You could leave the door open and scatter some treats or toys in the carrier or even pop in your pet’s favourite blanket.
4. Get your pet used to the car
Many dogs are used to car trips to the park and further afield but for some dogs, cats and smaller animals the car is a terrifying place, somewhere they only visit when they’re on the way to see the vet.
Some people find it helpful to pop their pet in the carrier and take them out for a few short car journeys so that they don’t stress when it is time to go to the vet’s.
5. Resist the urge to keep reassuring your pet
Sometimes our good intentions can make a visit to the vet even worse for our pets. If you keep hugging your pet and telling them it’s OK, they may start to wonder what you’re so stressed about, which can send their own stress levels through the roof!
The best thing you can do is to be as matter-of-fact and unruffled about visiting the vet as possible.
6. Get your pet used to being handled
Your pet is probably used to being stroked and held by you, but how would they react to the vet looking at their teeth, feeling their tummy or clipping their nails?
It can make it easier for you, your vet and your pet if you can get them used to having more vulnerable areas such as their mouth, paws, ears and tummy touched and examined.
7. Go armed with treats
The aim is to make visiting the vet as pleasant an experience as possible. Unless your vet has asked you to not feed your pet before their appointment, it’s handy to go armed with a supply of their favourite treats or a special toy.
If you decide treats are the best option, offer one to your pet as they sit nicely in the waiting room or as they let the vet handle them. The key is to reward good behaviour throughout your visit.
This is especially important for dogs who can find the waiting room very stressful. Try to encourage your dog to face you and to focus on you while you wait. Give them treats for sitting nicely and focusing on you.
Also, your dog may be super friendly in a waiting room of other super-friendly dogs but you never know how nerves will affect a usually approachable animal. To be on the safe side, it’s not advisable to let your dog approach other dogs in the waiting room.
8. Feed and exercise your pet beforehand
Again, unless your vet has specifically asked you not to feed or exercise them before the appointment, it’s a good idea to make sure your pet has been fed, had a run and been to the toilet before leaving for your appointment.
Having met their basic needs should help them to feel more comfortable instead of being hungry and irritable.
9. Write down your questions in advance
Visiting the vet can be nerve-wracking for you and your pet, especially if they are very unwell. It can be hard to remember everything you need to ask when your pet seems stressed and eager to leave or you’re trying to take on board everything your vet is saying.
A top tip is to write down all of your questions, concerns or information you want to pass on to your vet in advance of your appointment.
Anything that brings down your stress levels will bring down your pet’s stress levels too.
10. Warn staff if your pet is extremely anxious
If your pet gets very anxious at the vet’s, phone up in advance and talk to someone from the practice about steps you can take to minimise their stress. You may be able to wait outside until your appointment and some practices have an entrance that by-passes the waiting room.
Most vets are experienced and aware enough to understand that animals need time to adjust to a new environment. Your vet may chat to you for several minutes before approaching your pet.
In cases of extreme anxiety, your vet might even recommend giving your pet a mild sedative to calm their nerves.
11. Trust your vet
Remember that, although it may be your pet’s first time at the vet or they’ve only been infrequently in the past, vets see all sorts of animals day-in and day-out. They understand different species, breeds and temperaments, and they will have a whole host of tricks up their sleeve to make handling your pet as easy and stress-free as possible.
If you have any concerns at all, talk to your vet and make a plan in advance of your appointment. Any vet worth their salt will be happy to make the experience as positive as possible for your pet.
Until next time, Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support