Does the thought of taking your dog to the vet fill you with dread? Veterinary visits are frequently stressful for dogs, with a high proportion of them exhibiting fear and distress during their trip – but their are things we can do to help reduce this anxiety….
CREATE A CALM JOURNEY TO THE CLINIC
Your dog may be quite happy to jump into the car – probably optimistic of an exciting walk somewhere! But getting them through the surgery door can be another story altogether. Negative associations with the vet clinic may have been formed from previous visits, creating apprehension and tension on arrival at the clinic. Clinical examinations are not always comfortable experiences, so its understandable that they may feel anxious and jumpy once they’ve realised where they are.
If you are able to, then walk your dog to the clinic rather than drive. This is an ideal way to help them associate something enjoyable (walkies with a favourite person), with something less enjoyable (vet examination). If walking to the surgery is not feasible, then work on creating a calm car journey instead. Make sure your dog is safely and comfortably restrained in the car using a familiar crate, or with a harness and seatbelt attachment.
If possible, hold off on your dog’s usual feeding routing before you go to your appointment, or give a smaller meal. This reduces the risk of car sickness and accidents which can be exacerbated by stress and anxiety. If your dog does have an accident, try not to get angry as they will pick up on negative emotions and make the anxiety worse. An empty stomach might also be useful should your dog need to have diagnostic procedures such as blood tests or x-rays. During your journey, try to drive calmly and stay relaxed. Playing some classical music on the stereo can help promote calmness for our canine friends.
For dogs that get quite stressed with travelling, Adaptil may be a helpful adjunct. Adaptil is a synthetic copy of the Dog Appeasing Pheromone. These pheromones are chemical messages that are released from the mammary area of the bitch when nursing a litter of puppies, and give a strong signal of comfort and security to the puppies. Using the synthetic copy of the pheromone can help older dogs also feel safer and more secure within their environment to help reduce anxiety. Adaptil comes in a variety of forms, but the spray is most useful for anxious dogs when travelling, as it can be sprayed in the car 15 minutes before putting your dog in to start the journey. Herbal remedies such as Nutracalm may also be useful for anxious dogs, which can be given on its own or mixed with a little tasty treat about an hour before starting your journey to the clinic. Both Adaptil and Nutracalm are available to purchase from the surgery.
AT THE VETERINARY CLINIC
Veterinary surgery waiting rooms can be a stressful place for some dogs, as they may be crowded during busy surgery times, and can be noisy with lots of unfamiliar smells from other animals. Dogs can also pick up on other dogs’ fear, which will in turn increase their own anxiety. Owners often feel some degree of stress whilst waiting for their pet’s appointment also, which your dog can pick up on too. To reduce time spent in the waiting room, try to get to your appointment slot for the allocated time – arriving early doesn’t always mean the vet will be able to see you early as we work to an appointment system, whilst arriving late means you may have to wait if the next appointment has been taken in, and it can have a knock-on effect for the rest of the appointment session. If your dog is particularly anxious at the surgery, please ask us about booking the appointment at a generally quieter time, and if you would be able to wait in our spare examination room (at the Stanhope Road Surgery), rather than the waiting room. An alternative suggestion would be to wait outside or in the car with your dog until the vet is ready to see him, but please do let us know you have arrived.
Whilst waiting, you could take the opportunity to have a little fun with your dog, by playing with a toy perhaps, or some light-hearted training. This will help distract your dog from their surroundings, whilst also helping to associate a positive experience with the clinic.
TAKE TREATS WITH YOU
Once you’re in the examination room, your dog may become even more anxious, or you may even struggle to get them to go into the exam room. This can cause everyone’s stress levels to rocket. At Stanhope Park Veterinary Hospital, we pride ourselves at being sensitive and understanding of our patients’ fears and anxieties, and always aim to handle your pet gently and with respect.
Using really tasty treats to help distract your dog during the examination will help to associate the vet’s exam with a pleasant experience, and can be given to praise and reward your dog for putting up with unpleasant interventions such as having their temperature taken! Withholding your dog’s breakfast will make treats all the more valuable and tasty! Just remember to be mindful of possible contraindications to having treats, such as your dog having an episode of vomiting or diarrhoea.
Following the consultation, it can take a little while for the vet to price up the account and dispense any medications, so it may be better to put your dog in the car if you have driven to the surgery, rather than testing their patience by waiting in a busy reception area any longer.
For those dogs that do find coming to the vets a stressful experience, why not periodically bring them in to the surgery, starting off at non-consulting times, just to see our friendly reception staff and have some fuss and a few treats? We will happily let you sit in the waiting area, weigh your dog on the scales, and if we happen to have a nurse free then we would happily do a “mock” examination of your dog in the consulting room! Building up these experiences with regular visits, where your dog receives fuss and rewards without any scary or painful interventions, will help to build up a positive association with the clinic, hopefully making future visits less stressful for dog and owner alike! Getting into the habit of “examining” your dog at home, such as gently feeling along their back and tummy, lifting their paws and touching their feet, gently lifting their lips or looking at their ears etc. – whilst giving praise, fuss, treats or a favourite toy – will again help your dog become accustomed to being handled in this manner whilst associating examinations with positive rewards, especially if these techniques are started at a young age and performed regularly at home.
Whilst some dogs may always experience some degree of stress during a trip to the vets, we hope the above information can help owners implement ideas and strategies to help reduce this for future visits, making vet appointments more pleasurable for dog and owner alike!