Going to the vet is no fun for anyone. It is as if your pets can sense what is about to happen, and chaos ensues – wrestling your dog into the car, trying to coax your cat from under the bed and then the real interesting part; trying to get them into the carrier. All these raises both your and your pet’s stress levels, and you haven’t even made it to the vet yet.
Recently I had to take Oliver to the vet to get the stitches removed after his sterilization. What should have been a quick and easy visit, turned into an hour long wait, that resulted in a very anxious puppy. Oliver already doesn’t like going in the car, so before we even got to the vet he was not in a good frame of mind. Pair that with the long waiting time, it wasn’t surprising that Oliver, who doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, acted aggressively towards the vet. Thankfully, I have the best vet and he recognized and respected that Oliver needed a moment. He sang to him, gave him some tasty biltong treats and let him walk around the examination room. After a few minutes, Oliver was calm enough to allow the vet to handle him without any incidents.
I learnt about cooperative care in puppy class. It is where you train your animal using positive reinforcement, to tolerate being handled as well as giving their consent to being handled. Practising cooperative care such as chin rests, lying on their side, wearing a muzzle, foot and mouth handling, and ear and eye exams will make vet visits a breeze. It is important, during the training process, to take note of what your pet is telling you. If you are practising foot handling and your pet pulls their paw away, they are telling you ‘no’ and they are not cooperative. Start small and move your way up. It is definitely worth it in the long run.
Get your pet used to their carrier
I’ll hazard a guess that the only time your cat sees the carrier is when they are off to the vet. By doing this, you are unintentionally creating a negative association between the cat and the carrier, leading your cat to head for the hills when they see it. To break this association, leave the carrier out. Allow them to sniff it, play in it, even give them food and treats inside it, all the while leaving the door open.
Visit before hand
This is something my vet suggested for Oliver. He is naturally a bit of a nervous boy, so new places and people can make him anxious. To combat this, taking trips to the vet when they don’t actually need to be seen can help. It can make a scary place less daunting. Let them sniff around the grounds, hang out in the waiting room and meet the staff. The next time you go there for actual treatment, your dog should be more familiar with the sounds and smells of the practice and be a lot less stressed.
Choose a quiet time of day
Sometimes this isn’t possible, especially if it is an emergency, but if you are able to, call ahead and see when your vet isn’t particularly busy. Normally these are the first appointments of the day, where back logs haven’t had time to build up yet. Avoiding long waiting times and encountering of other animals means you can get in and out quickly.
Pick your spot
Vet waiting rooms can be a nightmare and it can be difficult to find a nice quiet spot away from other animals. If you find this is the case, inform the staff that you are there and go wait outside or in your car. This also works well for cats, if your vet doesn’t have a designated cat waiting area.
Keep them busy
Let’s be honest. Like most doctors, vets often run late, and you find yourself in the waiting room long after your appointment time. Hanging around in a strange environment can definitely make your pet antsy, so having a couple of things to keep them busy and distracted can be a game changer. Chewing and sniffing has a calming effect on dogs, so pack their favourite chew toy, or a snuffle mat, and allow them to decompress while waiting to be seen.
If you see, once you are in the examining room, that your dog is highly anxious or scared, don’t let the vet examine them immediately. Ask for a moment and allow your dog to explore the room and sniff the vet. You can also give them some treats and some cuddles for reassurance. If your dog does tricks, do a few simple ones. This can all boost their confidence, make them feel more at ease and put them in a better mind space to be handled and examined.
Now we have already established that I am rubbish at this. However, animals pick up on your emotions and feelings, so if you are feeling anxious, your pet may also become anxious. Try to remain as calm as possible, and talk to them throughout the whole process in soothing tones.