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Make vet visits enjoyable for you & pets
Sometimes, taking your pet for veterinary checkups can be stressful. Here are some tips to make it more enjoyable:
Start with socializing your pet at a young age. The socialization period for your puppy is between 7-16 weeks of age. This is a critical time to prevent fear and help ensure that your puppy is less anxious as an adult. Socializing with various dogs and people can help your pet be less fearful of anyone he may encounter throughout his lifetime.
Create happy visits. If your dog only gets exams and shots at the vet, he then associates only these things with his visits. Take your puppy or dog to the vet office for treats and petting often, especially as a puppy. Your dog will then associate the office with fun and positive events. To get your pet used to the scale and exam tables, feed him something tasty while introducing him to these various surfaces. Hand target training can also be a useful tool to teach your dog. Give your dog a treat for touching his nose to your hand. Practice at home until your dog becomes well-skilled. This can be used to move your dog onto the scale, and exam tables. Also, by giving him a task during the visit, you can ease anxiety and draw focus to the training and not the procedures.
Another method of combating vet-related anxiety is to exercise your dog for 30 minutes prior to the visit. A well-exercised dog will be less excitable, thereby decreasing the chance of anxiety-related behavior.
Pay close attention to your pet the entire visit--from the moment you enter the waiting room until you return home. If the waiting room is busy and crowded, walk him outside until you enter the exam room, using treats as positive reinforcement. Remember to bring treats for your dog that he really savors.
Keep your pet leashed in the waiting room. If your pet doesn’t like other dogs, keep him at a safe distance from other pets. If necessary, he can be desensitized to a basket muzzle for a few weeks prior to the visit. The benefit of using this type of muzzle above others is the ability to feed your pup tasty treats while allowing him to adapt to the new sensation. Please notify the office of aggressive dogs in advance so they can better accommodate you and your dog, even if by finding a time that can be less busy and stressful for the visit. If in the event your dog encounters another pet in the waiting room that leads to anxiety, you can help avoid confrontations by positively reinforcing direct eye contact with you.
Work on handling your dog at a young age. You should feed him something he enjoys while handling. Your puppy should enjoy having his ears, mouth, and feet touched. By utilizing positive reinforcement, the exams performed by your dog’s vets will be better tolerated. With these simple, early practices, you can help ensure a good thorough exam. Reinforce the calm behavior throughout the entire veterinary visit. This can be done by ignoring the undesirable behavior and reinforcing appropriate, relaxed behavior.
Positive training is a must. This method of training allows your pet to be relaxed when anticipating a correction. Your vet visits will then be associated only with positive experiences, instead of fear of reproach, hopefully letting you both have many years of relaxed, stress free veterinary visits.
When your dog begins to pull you through the vet’s office doors, you know we’ve all done something right.
Keep the cat carrier accessible for a few weeks or months prior to the visit. Allow your cat to interact with it, including voluntarily going in and out. You can throw treats inside or feed her in the open carrier to help desensitize her to the unfamiliar confines.
At this point, the hope is that your cat will now readily go into the carrier with minimal hassle. A top-loading carrier may allow your cat to remain inside and feel safer during a majority of the exam. A blanket or towel can be placed over the carrier to promote a sense of security as well as decreasing motion sickness. Begin with a few car rides a few weeks or months prior to your appointment. This can help make your visit a more positive experience for everyone. Happy visits to the vet for cat and owner are both encouraged and possible, even if a little bit of help is needed.
There are products that can be used in conjunction with the above techniques to help ease anxiety. Feliway is a synthetic feline pheromone that can assist in relaxing and calming your cat. A spray can be purchased and used around the house, car, and carrier as well as in the appointment, to make vet visits a more stress-free experience for both you and your cat.
Above all, try to remain positive and calm during your visits. I hope everyone has successful veterinary appointments in the future.
Andrea Straka, DVM
Irondequoit Animal Hospital