As veterinarians, we came into this profession with a love of animals. However, in reality many pets are fearful at the vet. Many times for good reason, they know there is pain sometimes associated with these visits. Unfortunately, that is a fact of life as we do things that are uncomfortable but necessary to keep a pet healthy.
What sorts of things can be done to improve a pet's visit?
For cats, we believe in minimal restraint and a gentle approach. Even with historically "fractious" cats, we always handle them gently (minimally if necessary) attempting to avoid scruffing or using a towel. It is not always possible, but being gentle is ALWAYS our default. 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 do not always want to go. You can improve this by bringing out the carrier days to weeks prior to the vet visit when possible. We also like to use Feliway pheromone spray, a favorite toy, treat, or even catnip inside the carrier to improve a cats comfort level. Then, once your cat is in the carrier, it is helpful to put a blanket over it to allow them to feel hidden inside. This protects them from the nosy dog that may approach on the way into the hospital. After that, we will do everything in our power to reduce over handling and movement of your cat. Please provide us any feedback that you may have regarding 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 a deep wound. We can probably safely assume our pets would prefer not to experience pain.
Dealing with dogs is a whole different ball game. 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 tremble, waiting for the whole experience to be over, and the last general category are the dogs that can be aggressive. As veterinarians we do not like to see pets upset just walking in the door, but it is 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 is best to start the counter-conditioning as early as possible. Try to figure out what treats your dog goes nuts over. Even if its something like dried 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 uncomfortable for 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.
When it comes down to examining your pet or giving shots or taking blood, every pet is an individual in 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 what tactics may have worked in the past. Some pets do better away from the owner while others do well with their face hiding in the owners lap. For very severe cases, we prefer to use drugs that are effective in calming your pet. Most times this is done with an injection as oral medications that you could 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.