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“Peternal” Instincts: Reducing Pet Anxiety for Veterinary Visits

TAKE MEASURES TO CREATE STRESS-FREE VET VISITS

Our pets: We’d do pretty much anything for them. From the first day we take them home, we do our best to give them the life we want for them. We buy them quality food, comfortable beds, customized water dishes and enough toys for them to play with until they can’t play anymore. We devote time by playing with them, cuddling up and tending to their every whim. To many, our pets are a valued part of our family, and as devoted and loving pet owners, we try to do everything in our power to reduce pet anxiety for veterinary visits, but are we doing the right things?

Whether an act is as simple as giving our dog a bone or scratching the lower back of our favorite feline, these gestures can relieve general pet anxiety. However, when it comes to reducing pet anxiety for veterinary visits, we sometimes feel powerless, especially when considering how many aspects of a visit are out of our control. The good news is that with a little proper planning, research, and special attention to your pet’s needs, your next trip to the vet doesn’t have to be a stressful affair. Through just a few simple steps, reducing your pet’s anxiety in the lead up to and during vet visits can be a snap.

WHY DO OUR PETS GET ANXIOUS?

First off, before we get into the meat of how to reduce our pet’s anxiety, it helps to first understand what triggers this emotion in our pets. Just like in humans, anxiety in our pets is a perfectly natural emotion and element of life. Because fear drives many of our instinctual responses to external threats, it is a necessary emotion in order for us to feel safe or cope with the realities of life. The same goes for our pets – fear in animals comes from a place that allows them to survive in a world they don’t fully understand.

When it comes to fear, all animals have different responses to the causes of it, otherwise referred to as the stimulus. The stimulus can be anything, and can be triggered in many different ways. For example, a dog that is scared by loud noises can be generated through means of a thunderstorm, an owner yelling, fireworks, etc. A fear of a specific instance, however, prompted by a specific stimulus, is typically known as a phobia, and an extensive background of phobias in animals can lead to anxiety.

While all pets will experience anxiety in one way or another, not every pet experiences it for the same reason – what may scare one pet could delight the next. Some of the most common fears that dogs often experience, in addition to the fear of loud noises previously noted, are the fear of being left alone, fear of riding in the car, fear of going up and down stairs, fear of strangers, and, yes, even fear of the veterinarian.

Pet anxiety caused by fear of the veterinarian can be brought on through a multitude of different scenarios. For some pets, a prior experience where an incident occurred could automatically trigger an anxious reaction; however, other fears can play a role in a fear of the veterinarian, such as a fear of new places or strangers. The good news is that you may be able to help ease your pet’s worries by following a few helpful tips before, on the way to, and during your pet’s next veterinary visit.

BEFORE THE VISIT

When breaking down the average trip to the veterinarian, especially when looking at it from a standpoint of wanting to lower your pet’s anxiety, there are three major aspects of a visit to keep in mind: Preliminary, the waiting room, and the appointment itself. Beginning with the preliminary, there are many things that one can do to help alleviate some of the stress of visiting the vet before even arriving.

1. Familiarity

Much of the early preparation that comes with taking your pet to the vet often rests on getting yourself and your pet familiar with everything that will be happening during a vet visit. Familiarity rests on a number of different aspects. First, familiarizing a pet with their crate is a major obstacle for many pet owners. Crates are confining and tend to signal to pets that something unwelcome is going to happen to them.

Try crating your pet and then taking them to the park for a frisbee toss or whatever activity they enjoy at least once a week. By repeatedly showing your pet that crating also results in positive outcomes, the first anxiety trigger can be addressed. It may also be beneficial to take actual trips to the veterinarian in advance. Crate your pet, drive to the vet, and then walk them around the area surrounding the vet’s office and even take your furry friend in to quickly meet the staff. They’ll get familiarized with the staff and likely be given a treat, and upon leaving, a positive association will be created.

2. Education

Another aspect of preparation for a visit to the vet comes down to educating yourself, as well as those at the vet’s office, of any concerns your pet may have during the visit. For instance, if you decide to take your pet for a test run, it would be wise to inform the vet’s receptionist of any worries or concerns you have concerning your pet and possible anxiety issues, and ask for any nuggets of wisdom they may have about reducing pet anxiety for future vet visits.

Furthermore, as an owner, the responsibility of dealing with pet anxiety not only rests on educating others, but also educating yourself concerning your pet’s condition. As you spend time with your pet, take notes about certain aspects of their personality that you feel are worth conveying to your veterinarian. Additionally, find ways to help take your pet’s mind away from their anxiety – pack a favorite toy along for the trip to help distract them from their anxiety.

3. On your way

Finally, as you are taking your pet to the vet, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First, when interacting with your pet, it’s important to find a happy medium between reassuring them that everything will be alright, but not to the point where they’re being coddled. Your tone with your pet should reinforce that they’ll be okay, but avoid conveying that there’s something to possibly worry about.

Additionally, if your pet is particularly anxious, especially around other animals, try to pick a quiet time of the day to bring your pet to their appointment. When scheduling the appointment, discuss whether there are a lot of other appointments around the same time, and avoid those times of the day if possible. You can also inquire whether the vet has a private entrance and waiting room set aside for overly anxious animals. Many often do!

Finally, it’s important to also be aware of your own stress levels. Understand why and how you are acting around your pet, and try to keep a level head no matter what happens during the appointment. Often times, pets will look to their owner as a gauge of how they should act, and they have a keen sense of your emotional state. If you stay calm, your pet won’t have as much to worry about.

THE WAITING ROOM

When you arrive at the vet’s office for your pet’s visit, your pet’s anxiety may peak. Some pets may not be able to make it into the backroom without experiencing substantial anxiety, while some may not even be able to make it into the building. No matter when your pet experiences anxiety, it’s up to you, as the owner, to assess the situation and find the best way to reduce your pet’s anxiety.

1. Create a comfortable space

When it comes to taking your pet to the vet, it’s your responsibility to make it as smooth of an experience as possible. So plan ahead, anticipating all aspects of the visit and where “stress points” may arise. Try to arrive a little early so your pet can get comfortable in the new environment – when it’s finally time for them to be called back for their checkup, it may not seem as daunting once they’ve familiarized themselves with the office.

Additionally, when you’re in the waiting room with your pet, do your best to maintain a set space between your pet and other pets that may be in the waiting room. The last thing you or your pet needs is another animal winding them up right before an appointment. Finally, use this time to help distract your pet about where they are by pulling out their favorite toy that you brought along for them to play with as they’re waiting.

2. On an off day

However, preparation can only go so far when it comes to pet anxiety – on the off chance that on your pet’s visit, they decide they’d rather stay in the car than go inside, fear not. In this instance, as always, remain calm and continue to be a supportive pet owner. Make sure not to force your pet to go inside, nor yell at them for not complying. When this happens, simply let the receptionist know that your pet is a little nervous, letting them know that you’ll be with your pet, comforting them until it’s time for their appointment inside. You may be given access to an alternate door that allows entry away from the other pets.

This is another instance where bringing your pet to their appointment early will work in your favor – with there being less of a time constraint, you’ll have more time to let your pet come in when they’re ready. In the mean time, do everything you can to make your pet feel comfortable, regardless of the situation. Play with their favorite toy, pet them, talk to them, and reassure them that everything will be okay. Once they’ve calmed down, now is the time to take them inside and begin the appointment.

THE APPOINTMENT

The time for your pet’s appointment has now arrived. When your veterinarian comes into the room, begin by allowing your vet to make their initial impressions with your pet, while also letting them know of any particular episodes of anxiety they’ve experienced, as well as what’s brought you both in today.

It’s equally important to also let your veterinarian know if your pet has any past instances of abuse, neglect, or anxieties caused by previous owners or situations. Once the vet has started to examine your pet, keep these helpful tips in mind to help your pet cope with their anxiety.

1. Finding a spatial balance

Between both you and the vet being in the examining room during your pet’s appointment, it could feel overwhelming pretty quickly. One of the most important things you can do for your animal during their checkup is to maintain ample space between you and the vet, and you and your pet. Only comfort your pet if specifically asked to by the vet. You want your pet to understand that oyu trust the person who is handling them.

It’s your responsibility to simply be there for your pet to make them feel comfortable, and hovering may only agitate them further. A helpful tip to recommend to your doctor is to use a side approach. Through this method, the veterinarian works with the animal from their side instead of directly in front of them, allowing for a less intimidating perspective for your animal to be examined.

2. Be there whenever necessary

Though it’s always important to give the vet the proper space so that they can do their job, your pet may look to you as a source of comfort during the examination. Therefore, you should be on the lookout for low-stress, familiar ways that you can help distract your pet from their appointment. Bringing a favorite toy, talking with them in a familiar manner, or giving them other relaxation aids are just some of the ways this can be done. Also, be aware of your pet’s mood, and don’t be afraid to ask your vet questions about what is being done to the animal – if something is being done that you don’t feel comfortable with or you sense is placing undue stress on your pet, quickly communicate your concerns to your vet.

3. Control your own stress level

Very similar to keeping a low stress level in the waiting room, it’s important to keep a level head during the appointment as well. Because of the high-stress nature a visit to the veterinarian can put on your pet, it’s important for you to act as an outlet for reducing pet anxiety for veterinary visits. Often times, your pet looks to you as a beacon of what they should be doing – if you’re scared, they can get scared. If you’re happy, they’re happy. If you’re calm, then there’s a good chance that they will be as well.

4. Rewarding good behavior

After the appointment is finished, make sure to give your pet a much-needed reward for getting through their examination. Whether it’s a treat, a new toy, or some other unique incentive you share with your pet, it’s important to let them know that with good behavior comes great reward. Once they’re back at home, judging on your pet’s mood, give them extra attention if they’re feeling excited or happy, or give them space if they’re feeling worn down. In the latter, don’t worry – when they’re feeling better, they’ll know where to find you.

A TEAM EFFORT

Visits to the veterinarian can be a daunting task for both you and your pet. Reducing pet anxiety for veterinary visits begins by ensuring that you are conveying an air of calmness and assurance to your pet – they feed off of your emotional state more than you realize. You are the captain of the team and your pet will follow your lead – for the most part. Even if you present an air of calmness and reassurance, your pet may still become anxious due to various factors out of your control.

By following all of the previous listed steps, your pet will come to realize that visiting the vet is a natural part of life – similar to how regular checkups are necessary for us humans. To recap, let’s go over the main steps one last time.

First, take the necessary steps to prepare your pet to visit the veterinarian – much of which comes down to familiarizing your pet with the many aspects of an appointment. Familiarization of your pet’s crate, the veterinarian’s office, the car, and general handling will all help your pet to overcome their fears and anxiety over vet appointments. Also, make sure your vet is aware of any major anxieties that your pet has, as well as any past history of abuse or neglect so that they are aware of the personality of the animal they’ll be seeing.

Secondly, on the day of their appointment, bring them to the vet well before their scheduled time, so they will be able to familiarize themselves with the space and area that they’ll be seen in. This can also be a helpful tactic if your pet decides they aren’t able to go into the office just yet. If this is the case, use the time to comfort your pet in a calming tone.

Finally, during the visit, make sure you give both your pet and veterinarian the proper space in order to assess their condition, but also make sure you’re alert and aware of your pet’s needs during the appointment. Keep your animal facing you while your veterinarian uses a side approach if they’re anxious. When the appointment is over, make sure you reward your pet’s good behavior, as well as gauge your animal’s mood once they’re finished.

Remember: Your pet is a member of your family – treat them with respect and patience, and their anxieties will be easier to manage as a result.