12 Tips for a Stress-Free Visit to the Vets
Visiting a veterinary practice is a regular responsibility for dog and cat owners and it's important that you make your pet as comfortable as possible for each visit.
Many think a trip to the vet will only be necessary for accidents or illnesses, but it's not until you have a pet that you realise this isn't the case. In fact, regular trips to the veterinary clinic for annual checks and vaccinations is a good way to avoid the need for serious veterinary care.
As you'd expect, many pets quickly associate a visit to the vet with discomfort, pain and stress and it doesn't take long for your pet to recognise the signs of an impending trip.
Follow these 12 trips and you may well save your pet, and yourself, a lot of stress for your next visit. Who knows, you may even be able to make it a positive experience.
Below are 12 tips for a stress-free visit to the vets
- Get your pet comfortable with handling early on
- Don’t associate your pet's crate with a visit to the vets
- Keep calm
- Visit the vet before an appointment
- Familiarise your pet with car journeys
- Choose a quiet time of day
- Pack a favourite toy
- Wait outside or in the car
- Avoid other anxious pets
- Reward good behaviour during the visit
- Provide their usual blanket, bed or other item that smells like home
Get Your Pet Comfortable with Handling Early on
This is vital and will help with many situations throughout your pet's life, not just visits to the vet.
Through your pet’s life, you can bet they will be regularly handled regularly, mainly for grooming, examinations and treatment at the vets.
If you're lucky, your pet may have no problem with handling. In fact, some even enjoy the attention. However it is more likely they will feel quite uncomfortable, at least at first, which will make the whole experience quite difficult.
The best way to tackle this is to get them used to being handled at an early age. You can do this by using positive reinforcement like treats and affection to make it a more enjoyable experience for your pet.
Remember, handling doesn’t mean picking your pet up, it can be be anything from inspecting their paws, teeth, and ears, to touching them around their legs, head and chest and lifting up their tails.
Do this daily at first with a puppy, kitten or other juvenile pet until they are completely comfortable with it. As with all training, you must continue the practice through their lives, although less frequently.
Don't Associate Your Pet's Crate with a Visit to the Vets
If the only time you put your pet in a crate is when you’re visiting the vet, that is all they will ever associate it with.
Imagine a room or building, like your dentist for example, that you've had a negative experience in every time you’ve entered it. Whenever you see that building, your fear and anxiety will rise and this is often the same with pets and their crates.
There is an easy yet often lengthy way of avoiding this.
Your aim here is to get your pet used to seeing the crate, entering it on their own accord, and associating it with positive experiences.
Here's how you do it - Place the crate somewhere your pet feels safe, like your living room or bedroom, leave the door open and put some toys and/or treats inside.
Whatever you do, do not force them in the crate. It may take days, or even weeks, but eventually their curiosity will take over and they will step inside.
As with most things, this first time is the hardest and once they realise nothing bad will happen, they will be in and out of there regularly. It is at this point they will be comfortable in the crate for a visit to the vet.
Now they may have had a bad experience after being in the crate, but that’s not their only association with it, therefore there should be less difficulty in the future.
If possible, always keep the crate open somewhere, not just when you know you have a vet appointment looming. They may not always seem it, but pets are smart. They could soon come to learn that the crate only comes out when a trip to the vets is imminent
This is very important!
Speak to your pet calmly and try to keep your own anxiety levels down.
A visit to the vet can be a very stressful time for an owner. You're worried about your pet's health, how you will be able to afford the treatment, and maybe even if your pet insurance will cover the cost.
These are all understandable things to worry about, but it's crucial you try not to show any signs of this to your pet. If you do, or you start to treat your pet differently i.e. smothering them, their instincts will tell them something is or will soon be wrong.
They may not know what that something is, but their anxiety levels will increase anyway.
Visit the Vet Before an Appointment
A useful trick is to familiarise your pet with the veterinary clinic before their appointment.
You can do this by taking them to the clinic a few times to get their senses used to the environment and meet the people who work there.
The more you do this, the less likely they will only associate a visit with fear and pain and the less stress they will experience at their next appointment.
Before you do this, make sure you call your vet to check they’re happy for you to come in. If it’s a busy time, they may politely ask you not to do so.
Prepare yourself as much as you would your pet.
Make sure you have everything you need, you arrive on time, and you know what is needed from you. If you are stressed for any reason you can bet this will rub off on your pet.
Other preparations include making sure you’ve properly followed your vets’ guidelines prior to the appointment/surgery such as feeding timing and exercise etc.
Familiarise Your Pet with Car Journeys
Some pets love getting in the car because it means they’re off to run through fields and jump in puddles with their friends.
For others, the only time they get in a car may be to go to the vets, therefore their stress levels rise immediately.
To avoid this, try taking your pet in the car with you to various places so that a car journey isn’t only associated with a visit to the vets.
You can drive them to a new location for a walk, or you could simply just drive around the block a few times.
Your ultimate goal here is to remove the ‘car means vet’ association.
Always remember though, do not ever leave your pet in the car. Whether in cold or hot temperatures, a car can be a very dangerous place for a pet and so you should only take them with you if you intend to take them out of the car when you stop.
Choose a Quiet Time of Day
This is a particularly useful tip if your pet isn’t overly animal friendly, or even people friendly.
Call your vet and specifically request a quieter time of the day for your appointment. If you explain the reasoning, they may be able to shuffle things around to accommodate you. After all, the calmer the pet, the easier it will be for the veterinary surgeon to do the necessary examinations etc.
As well as avoiding other anxious pets, it should mean you are in and out quicker, which will ultimately reduce your pet's stress levels.
Pack a Favourite Toy
Most pets will have that one teddy or chew thing they turn to when they’re not feeling 100%. Make sure you bring this with you.
The familiarity and comfort provided by such a small item cannot be overstated. It can protect them and comfort them like nothing else, just like a teddy does for a child and they will likely carry it with them from the moment they get in the car, to the moment they return home.
If your pet must stay overnight, or for a few days, request that the vet keeps their favourite toy in their sleeping area.
Wait Outside or in the Car
If you simply cannot get your pet to relax in the waiting area, or it's busy, why not wait outside or in your car?
Let the receptionist know that your outside, so they know where to find you when the vet is ready for your appointment, and then enjoy some together time outside.
The fresh air, and not being surrounded by other animals, will help to keep your pet's stress levels down and is otherwise much nicer for both of you than sitting inside.
Avoid other anxious pets
Your pet will not be the only anxious one in the waiting room and unfortunately other animal's anxiety will rub off on your pet, so it is your job to try and keep them away from these animals.
Anxiety and stress can also make the most pleasant, docile animal defensive and aggressive, so you must ensure your pet doesn’t invade their personal space, or they risk getting hurt or indeed your pet could hurt them.
If you simply cannot find a space, waiting outside may be a better option.
Reward Good Behaviour During the Visit
Positive reinforcement is possibly the most useful tool available for a pet owner. That’s why you must make sure you don't visit the vets without your pet’s favourite treat so you can reward them when they're showing relaxed behaviour, or for other positive behaviour like returning to you on call.
Obviously, you will also want to reward them after any treatment or checks, no matter how small, so they come to know that visiting the vet can mean lots of treats and is therefore a good thing and not something to be scared of.
Provide their usual blanket, bed or other item that smells like home
We all know that pets, particularly dogs, have an incredible sense of smell that is far more sensitive than ours. You can use this to your advantage when trying to reduce their stress at the vets, or any other stressful situation.
Bring something that will smell undoubtedly like home. That could be a blanket, their bed, or even some of your clothing.
Make this item available for them to sit on, or just keep it close. The smell of home, where they feel safe, can be very soothing for them.
Of course, if they’re having surgery, they will need to be in a sterile environment, but you may be able to keep the item with them until they’re asleep.
If your pet must stay overnight, or for a few days, request that the vet keeps this in their sleeping area to remind them of you and home.