Taking the stress out of vet visits

Your dog or cat may never look forward to his vet visits, but these suggestions can make them a lot less stressful for him, as well as easier on you and your vet.

Let’s face it. Most animals don’t enjoy going to the vet. In fact, depending on your dog or cat’s temperament, a vet visit can be a harrowing experience for both of you. Growing up, I can remember accompanying my parents on our annual trip to the vet with our two dogs. One of them, an animal who daily struck fear into the hearts of mailmen, tried so hard to get away from the vet that he broke a leather collar.

I now have a cat, appropriately named Monster, whose behavior at the vet’s office used to be equally embarrassing. The worst of it haunts me to this day. Early one morning, I dropped him off at the clinic on my way to work, as he was exhibiting signs of urinary blockage. Two hours later, I received a phone call at my job: “Ms. Rousser, we need you to come pick up your cat. We can’t get him out of the kennel.”

Upon arriving at the vet’s office, I was ushered into the back area, where Monster’s kennel was placed so high I had to get a stepladder to get him down. The room cleared as everyone expected psycho-cat to go ballistic once he got out. As I cautiously opened the door, a menacing hiss issued from inside. I spoke softly to Monster and gingerly placed my hand within smelling distance. After one whiff, he meowed and calmly walked to the door, allowing me to lift him out. Monster was once again the cat I knew and loved. But it was short-lived. The vet still had not had a chance to examine him, so since I have experience with animals (and the techs were a little afraid of him), I restrained him so she could palpitate his stomach. Suddenly, the monster returned with a vengeance. He hissed, spat, and bit my arm.

We love and cherish our animal companions, so most of us also wish there was some way to make vet visits easier. Since my experience with Monster, I’ve learned a few tips that have helped make things less stressful for everyone involved.

1. Whenever possible, be with your dog or cat while he is being examined

Because you have a relationship with your animal, your presence is comforting to him. That is why Monster was so willing to come out of his kennel for me, but swatted at anyone else who tried.

2. Stay calm during the exam

Your animal takes his cues from you, so if you stay relaxed, your dog or cat is also more likely to do so. Avoid overly emotional responses to simple procedures like temperature-taking. Speak to the vet in conversational tones and maintain a relaxed body posture. Remind yourself that although these few minutes might be uncomfortable for your companion, he would be a lot more uncomfortable if he developed a disease that could have been prevented or alleviated by routine checkups.

3. If you can, take your animal other places besides the vet’s office

This will reduce anxiety on the ride to and from the exam. If you purchase things from your vet’s office, like food or medication, bring your animal along for the ride. This shows him that the car and vet’s office are not always negative experiences.

4. Bring along a handful of your animal’s favorite healthy treats

This is the most important advice you will ever receive. Positive reinforcement is the key to any type of behavior modification. Just be aware of what you are reinforcing! A common mistake people make is giving their animals treats when they display anxious behaviors. This inadvertently trains them to be anxious. Give your animal treats only when he is sitting quietly and calmly, and pay as little attention as possible to the anxious behavior. The calm behavior may be fleeting at first, but it will become more prevalent once the animal learns he will get a treat for it. This training will reduce stress, as well as minimize or eliminate the need for any tranquilizing drugs during exams or other travel.