As veterinarians, we came into this profession with a love of animals, but its also a reality that many pets are fearful at the vet. Many times, for good reason, think of the toddler that has to be held down for shots, they know there is pain sometimes associated with these visits. Unfortunately, that is a fact of life and many times we do things that are uncomfortable but necessary to keep a pet healthy. So, what sorts of things can be done to improve a pets visit? I think it's easiest to separate the approaches into dogs and cats.
For cats, I believe minimal restraint and a gentle approach is a must. Even with historically "fractious" cats, I always attempt to pet them and handle them (minimally if necessary) but with a gentle touch avoiding scruffing and using a towel. It is not always possible, but being gentle is ALWAYS our default. In addition to this, many times for cats, the stress starts at home before the visit when the carrier comes out. Cats are smart and they know those carriers mean a place they don't always want to go. You can improve this by getting out the carrier, sometimes weeks prior to the vet visit, if possible. I also like to use Feliway pheromone spray, a favorite toy or treat and even catnip inside the carrier to improve cats comfort level when inside. Then, once your cat is on the carrier, it's helpful to put a blanket on it to allow them to "hide" inside. This also protects them from the nosy dog that may approach on the way to the vet hospital After that, we will do everything in our power to reduce over-handling and movement of your cat. Please also provide us any feedback that has or has not worked for your pet. We always say owners know their pets the best.
One item that has not been mentioned is the use of drugs. We are proponents of using carefully crafted drug combinations to reduce the stress of a painful procedure or even simple handling for an exam. An example may be cleaning deep wound. As humans, many of us prefer to reduce the pain or not to feel it at all if we have to have a painful procedure done to us, we can probably safely assume our pet counterparts feel the same way.
Dealing with dogs is a whole different ballgame. In general, dogs can be placed into a few categories when it comes to their behavior at the vet. Some are happy and excited and many times too exuberant, others are fearful but go stiff and sometimes trembling, waiting for the whole experience to be other, and the last general category is the dogs that get aggressive. As veterinarians, we do not like to see pets upset just walking in the door, but it's a reality and likely the culmination of many triggers or events that have preceded the vet visit. We know these are great pets at home and do not judge them by their behavior at the vet hospital.
If you are worried about your pet's anxiety coming to the vet, it's best to start the counterconditioning as early as possible. Try to figure out what treats your dog goes nuts over. Even if it's something like liver, please feel free to bring it with you and have our staff indulge your pet. Many times the various floor surfaces at the vet are alarming to some dogs. If you suspect this is playing a role, please let us know and we can provide mats and floor tiles that will make it easier for your pet to maneuver. Now, when it comes down to examining your pet or giving shots or taking blood, every pet is an individual in what sets if off or what he or she may tolerate. This may start to sound like a broken record, but it is vital to inform us of what you may believe upsets your pet or adversely, what may have worked in the past. Some pets do better away from the owner while others do well with their face hiding in the owner's lap. For very severe cases, we also like to consider the use of drugs that are effective in calming your pet. Many times this is done with an injection of oral medications that you could possibly start at home are just not as effective, but worth trying if that is a more comfortable approach.
In the end, our goal is to provide a thorough exam and do so with minimal anxiety while maintaining a safe environment for you and our staff.