The veterinary clinic can be a scary place for pets. The strange smells, people, and unnatural protocols are an alarming departure from their comfortable routine, and many dogs and cats react with uncharacteristic fear and aggression. It’s important to remember that any behavior should be viewed as a form of communication. Your pet is trying to communicate how they feel about the situation.
The Johnson County Animal Clinic team wants your pet to love us as much as we love them—or at least resent us a little less. To make this a reality, we have composed a helpful guide to minimizing pets’ veterinary stress. Take these steps at home in preparation for your pet’s next veterinary appointment.
#1: Help your pet learn to enjoy being handled
Physical examination and restraint are the most common reasons for pet stress and anxiety. Teach your pet to accept touch with a treat. Begin playing this game when your pet is already comfortable, and start with a favorite spot (e.g., behind the ears). Your pet will quickly learn that touching predicts treats. Gradually work toward more sensitive areas, such as their feet, ears, abdomen, and tail.
#2: Help your pet learn love their confinement
If your cat sees their carrier only when they go to the clinic, they likely see the carrier as a strong predictor of unfamiliar people and places. Cats prefer things that are familiar and comfortable, so make the carrier a part of your home, and set up positive experiences:
- Elevate the carrier to make it more inviting.
- Provide a cozy blanket misted with calming feline pheromones.
- Feed your cat near or inside the crate.
- Randomly place tasty treats or toys inside for your cat to find.
- If the carrier has a lot of windows or mesh, place a blanket over the sides, to create a dark, snug den.
#3: Teach your pet to relax on a mat
A large portion of your pet’s veterinary experience requires being still and waiting, two unnatural behaviors for dogs and cats in a strange environment. Teaching your pet to rest on a mat (i.e., stationing) will help them learn to be calm and relaxed at the veterinary clinic.
- Place the mat (e.g., a rug, or a piece of yoga mat) on the floor, and act excited.
- As your pet checks out the mat, toss several treats there.
- Reward your pet several more times, and then put down a treat away from the mat, so they must step away.
- When they return to the mat, immediately reward them.
- Repeat a few times, remove the mat, and end the session.
In session two of the game, your pet will likely be excited to begin. Continue to ping-pong your rewards, placing them mainly on the mat, and tossing them away from the mat to reset the game. If your pet sits or lies down on the mat, reward them generously.
Ideally, your pet will seek out the mat (i.e., target behavior) and choose to stay there for treats. The more they relax, the more you reward them. Targeting behaviors naturally build confidence in dogs and cats. Practice them often in different places, and bring your pet’s mat to the veterinary clinic, or anywhere they need to feel settled and secure. This portable behavior transfers nicely to:
- The veterinary scale
- The examination table
- A rug in the lobby
- A bench or chair
#4: Create positive associations with car rides and your pet
Homebody pets tend to associate car rides with the veterinarian. To correct this, take your pet on regular short trips that do not involve the clinic. Take precautions to ensure your pet has a smooth, stress-free ride by:
- Securing them in a crate, carrier, or seat belt—ideally, your pet should enjoy their crate at home before you introduce travel
- Placing cat carriers on the floor behind the driver’s seat
- Securing dog crates with bungee cords or tie-down straps
- Not feeding your pet for two to three hours before a car ride, to prevent car sickness
- Avoiding sudden stops or turns, if possible
#5: Schedule your pet’s appointment at quieter times
Our clinic tends to be busier first thing in the morning and toward the end of the day, so request an appointment around lunch time, when there is not as much foot traffic.
Also, let us know when you make your pet’s appointment that they would do better going straight to an exam room, rather than waiting in the lobby.
#6: Prepare what you need so you can focus on your pet
Owners often dread their pet’s visit as much, if not more, than their pet. Your pet can sense your emotions, so keep them in check to prevent encouraging fear and stress. Replace your anxiety with assurance by preparing everything you need in advance:
- Questions — Make a list of questions you’d like to ask the veterinarian.
- Refills — Check your supply of pet medication, food, and parasite preventives before leaving home.
- Treats — Bring 50 to 100 tiny treats that your pet enjoys, but don’t feed them before your visit, so they will be hungry, and not nauseated by the car ride, and will be motivated by the treats.
- Samples — Remember to collect any fecal or urine samples on the morning of your visit.
- Schedule — Leave home early for your pet’s appointment, to prevent feeling rushed.
A systematic approach to your pet’s visit to Johnson County Animal Clinic will give your pet the coping skills to become a confident patient, and help build a positive future of preventive care. To schedule your pet’s appointment, or to discuss pre-visit pharmaceuticals such as anti-anxiety medication, contact us.