Plenty of dogs are scared of going to the vet, but that fear level can differ. Some just shake while others are full out aggressive, and a simple visit turns into a hellish experience for everyone.
The good news is, there are lots of things you can do to reduce that anxiety level. Although he may not go running towards the vet like seeing a long lost friend, your appointment could at least be more manageable than it’s ever been.
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Reasons why your dog hates the vet
One says hate, the other says scared. Whichever word you choose to use, the vet is the last person your dog ever wants to see, but why is that?
♦ Depending on the time of day you go, and popularity of your vet’s practice, walking through the door can be a trauma all its own. A room full of strange people and unfamiliar dogs. Some may be barking or at least showing some level of anxiety. What about cats in crates? Your dog may already fear cats, or never having encountered them before it’s another new experience on top of all the other sensory overload. It’s no wonder your dog is heading for the exit!
♦ When it’s your dog’s turn he’s ushered into a waiting room, placed on a cold and slippery examination table, and some man or woman is putting his hands all over him. Not to mention that dreaded thermometer going you know where! If your dog isn’t feeling well, which is often the reason for this vet visit, it makes the whole situation even worse.
It’s no wonder the whole experience is not one he ever wanted to repeat.
Should you muzzle your dog at the vet?
♦ I apologize, in advance for stating the obvious but…if your dog is relatively calm and although he may not like being examined he’s okay with it, then no, it shouldn’t be necessary. If, however, your normally sweet and well behaved dog gets aggressive and/or there is a chance your dog could bite, than yes you should muzzle your dog.
♦ Being bitten may be part of a routine day at the office for your vet, but imagine if your dog freaked out so much his bite caused your vet serious injury, to the point he couldn’t work for a few days.
♦ The vet nurse and any other staff that will be interacting with your dog need to be protected, and this is the right way.
♦ Wearing a muzzle can calm your dog down, at least long enough for your vet to perform a physical exam and any other procedures needed.
♦ You want to get the appointment over as soon as possible, muzzling him will allow everyone to focus on what they need to do, instead of protecting themselves from a bite. This means working quicker, diagnosing quicker and getting your dog out so he can calm down.
♦ You are often the one to hold your dog while your vet examines him, so a muzzle will protect you as well.
Here’s how to make vet visits less scary
Play doctor at home
I know you’re always playing with your dog, petting him, and giving him lots of cuddles. That’s different from how he’s handled during an examination by your vet. Get him used to having his ears checked, open his mouth and look at the state of his teeth, touch his paws (something lots of dogs don’t care for no matter where they are), and gently holding him so he can’t move for a second. Doing this on a regular basis should help.
Be sure and give him lots of praise and some treats during these sessions.
Visit your vet’s office socially
Instead of only going to the vet when it’s time for a check up, he’s hurt or not feeling well, why not pop in just to say hello. It will help desensitize him, and make at least part of his visit less frightening.
Have the staff make a fuss of him, give her treats or even have a quick play session (if time allows) with a favorite toy. Do that periodically so when it’s time for a visit he may be better able to handle it.
Having trouble getting him out of the parking lot? No worries, try this.
♦ When you drive into the parking lot is he already nervous? What about a block away? Drive to the point where he’s still okay and give him a treat. Can you drive closer? As long as he’s calm give him a treat. You want to be able to drive into the parking lot and he’ll still be calm. This may take a few tries, so at any point when he’s nervous just go home and try another day.
♦ Now he’s fine in the parking lot, and it’s time to get out of the car. Open the door. Is he okay? Great, give him a treat. Can he get out of the car and still be fine? Another treat. How about a step towards the front door? See where this is going?
♦ Your goal is to take one step at a time, rewarding him as long as he’s calm. If at any time he starts showing anxiety, end the training right there, and please no treats. Take it up another day, starting at the point he was still calm.
♦ One step at a time will get you to in the front door, to the reception desk, into the waiting room and into your vet’s office.
♦ Again, do this very slowly and never take another step unless he was calm during the one you’re at.
♦ It’s very possible you will only make it a certain distance until he starts getting nervous again, and that’s okay. At least part of that visit will be on a calmer note.
Here’s what to do If your vet is situated inside a large pet supply store
♦ Take your dog shopping and casually walk by the practice. If he’s calm near the reception desk give him a treat.
♦ If he notices what you’re trying to do and tries to make a run for it, walk him away from there and try again another day.
♦ The next time you try, take notice of the distance from the reception desk your dog has to be for him to be calm. Stand at that distance and give him a treat.
♦ As long as he’s calm, take a step forward and give him another treat.
♦ You don’t want to do too much at once, so visit the store a couple of times a week for this training.
♦ Your goal is to take one step at a time until you’re able to stand by reception with a calm dog. That alone can take several visits, but it takes as long as it takes.
Each step of this desensitization training will take you closer to being able to sit in the waiting room, go to the exam room door, stand inside the room and hopefully less scared of the vet. Remember to only give a treat as long as he’s calm, but if he’s afraid it means you’ve moved too quickly. Go back to the point where he was still calm and go much slower next time. Rushing it will only sabotage the great progress you’ve been making.
Despite these social visits your dog may still always be scared, and that’s okay. If you manage to reduce his stress levels to some degree, you’ve been successful.
Make the exam room less scary
Can you bring your own non slip mat to put on the exam table? At least it won’t be so cold and slippery.
How about playing some calming music? Find something your dog likes, there’s tons of choice on Youtube and play it at home when he’s in a relaxed state. Now play it for him in the waiting room and during his exam, it may help. My dog had dementia and would sometimes get very anxious. At home I would play “Through a Dog’s Ear” and it would calm her down in seconds, and that is no exaggeration. I would also play it during her acupuncture treatments and it helped her settle.
Would a favorite toy help?
Give your dog calming medication
The above training may not bring you the progress you’d like, and your dog will still be nervous. Supplements or anti anxiety medication from the vet can reduce his stress levels.
Valerian and Skullcap
Find a “fear free” veterinary practice
Created by Dr Marty Becker, “fear free works to prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety, and stress in pets by inspiring and educating the people who care for them.”
To learn more please visit their website.
Is a house call the best option for your dog?
Instead of going through the stress of a trip to the vet, what about having the vet come to you? It will definitely be a costlier visit, but may be the best option in your case. At the very least it doesn’t hurt looking into.
Ask your vet if he offers that service, or look into a mobile veterinary practice. Some even have a fully equipped van they can perform minor procedures in! Simply type “how to find a mobile vet” into your search engine for a list in your area.
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