Many animals don’t visit their veterinarian as often as they should, because vet visits can be stressful—for humans and canines alike. Despite best efforts to keep our pets comfortable, a trip to the vet’s office can be unnerving: other animals, strangers, weird noises, and new smells. On top of all that, your dog might already be feeling ill or suffering from an injury. It can all add up to an uncomfortable experience for everyone.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Dogs are incredibly sensitive—especially to their guardian’s emotions. Have you ever seen a child fall and look up for a cue to see if it’s worth crying about? As with children, you can cue your dog to experience the world in a calm and healthy manner or to react in fear. While at the vet clinic, many nervous guardians unconsciously pet their animal with the force and speed of
a jackhammer so that by the time the vet enters the exam room, the dog is completely psyched out and ready to head for the hills. Controlling your own emotions will help your dog stay calm.
Another method to help ease anxiety is to keep your dog distracted with his favorite treat. To keep it extra special, you might even consider only giving this treat at the vet’s office. Treats can be especially helpful after your dog experiences something uncomfortable, like a vaccine or nail trim.
I also recommend teaching your dog a few training commands that will make the visit easier for you, your dog, and the vet. For example, if your dog understands “sit” and “come,” it will help prevent him from needing to be physically moved onto a scale or turned around for a procedure. Keeping your dog’s mind busy and stimulated is a great way to ease anxiety and prevent misbehavior, even outside of the vet’s office.
We’ve all heard “practice makes perfect,” and that applies to vet visits as well. If the only time your dog ever rides in the car is on the way to the vet, as soon as you start the engine, he’ll probably know where he’s going. The same applies if the only time you walk in the direction of the vet’s office is for an exam. Some vets will welcome your dog to stop by for a treat on days when you don’t have an appointment, which can be a great way to help your dog become more comfortable. Call ahead to make sure it’s OK.
You can also practice handling your dog at home by touching his feet, tail, and ears. It will help him get comfortable with the way he’ll be handled by the vet, and you’ll both benefit from the extra bonding time. It will also help you notice any new lumps or bumps.
Vet visits are essential to your pet’s health and shouldn’t be a source of anxiety. A little preparation and practice goes a long way toward making vet visits less stressful, along with controlling your own emotions. Your dog needs you to be there for his health, so take a deep breath, think calm thoughts, and remember he’s counting on you to be brave.
Need a little extra help? Check out the SF SPCA’s “Yay! Vet Visit!” classes at SFSPCA.org/training. Dr. Jennifer Scarlett is president of the San Francisco SPCA and has been responsible for a number of visionary programs, including a vaccine outreach program to underserved neighborhoods; a ground-breaking and nationally-recognized program that helps animals with behavior problems; and “Fospice,” a shelter program that uses foster homes to care for the most medically-challenged shelter animals. She lives in San Francisco with her dog Huri and two cats, L.V. and Nubs.
Photo by Aidras-Creative Commons
Main article photo by: Army Medicine-Creative Commons