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My pet HATES going to the vet…what can I do??

I wish that dogs and cats understood we were trying to help them…it would make our lives as veterinarians SO much easier. But alas, as much as I wish I was Dr Dolittle, I am not…so reading their behavior and using techniques to try to help ease their discomfort is the best we can do, and is something I think we can all work on to try to make these stressful visits a bit better! We are actually covering this topic at our next staff meeting, to discuss new (and old!) ways to try to make the experience better for our patients…so this felt like a good topic to cover this week in the blog as well!

Dogs are far easier to bribe than cats….they can easily be won over by their bellies, and often also even just attention and kind words can make a HUGE difference! Cats are harder…but you can still practice body handling, and can try to use treats for some of them, and can even just practice going into and out of the crate for travel too! But let me break down a few things that you as a pet owner can do to help make the visit less stressful!

1. Let us know if your pet doesn’t do well at their visit – this is something that is great to know ahead of time! Then the moment they walk in the door, we can adjust how we manage them if we know this is a hard visit for them. If they are stressed or reactive with other dogs – they can wait outside or come in a side door or right into a room to avoid seeing other dogs (or dogs in general for our feline patients). They can even be scheduled at times when there are less other patients in the hospital (when possible!). Or if you know they do best with you in the room, or away from you…wearing a muzzle, vs. being fed peanut butter, being covered by a towel, or even if we need to dispense sedatives to give before you come in – all of these things are really great to know ahead of time so we can make notes about how to best help the visit be positive!

2. Practice at home – body handling practice can be super helpful and is something you can and should start with young puppies and kittens! Play with their feet and toes – touching their nails and even trimming them or pretending to trim them. And while you are doing this….lots of praise and treats! Rewards for allowing handling and to distract them from what you are doing to make it less of a big deal, or even to make it positive! You should also practice picking up their feet and legs, and looking in their ears and cleaning their ears, sticking your fingers in their mouth – all of these are so important to show them at a young age that you mean no harm, and that it is ok for you to handle these areas! For cats – you can even practice getting them to go into and out of their crate – feeding them in the crate can sometimes help here too, to make it positive! And giving them treats and praise, and even just leaving the crate out so they can explore it can help too! Practicing handling them too helps – like gently wrapping them in a towel, or just holding them gently, to practice that body handling is soooo helpful! This can be so integral when your dog or cat then needs to come in and has a tooth problem, or an ear infection, so they are used to these areas being handled and will let us help them!

3. Practice coming in – We are happy to just say hello and give out some treats! So any time you want to practice coming in and saying hello, we can certainly try to help making coming in a happy occurrence! Treats, praise, and a quick in and out trip can help quite a bit to make them more willing to come in, and less directly associating coming in with negative experiences. We can easily practice going on and off the scale, into and out of an exam room, and saying hello without any scary experiences…and that can help make the next time easier on all of us!

4. Be your pet’s advocate – This is similar to the first one, but I think it’s important enough to touch on again. I want to note here that we are a team – our goal as veterinary professionals is to work WITH you to help your pet. So, if you feel uncomfortable with how your pet is behaving – speak up! We can always adjust what we are doing – if a pet is really fearful and is getting reactive and they are sick – there are lots of options for sedatives when we must handle them and it can’t wait. Sedatives are our friends – I would much rather give a light sedative at home that relaxes a patient, than fight with them! Or even in the hospital, we will do this when we need to look at a patient or perform a treatment and they are super fearful and reactive – sedate! Adjusting what we are doing, or coming back for a second visit can feel frustrating at the time, but if it makes it a better experience and easier for the patient – it is always worth it.

When we work together, and we can do some prep work at home, it can really improve how our vet visits go! And one final note – a muzzle is not the enemy….I think muzzles and basket muzzles get a bad rap sometimes. But when they are used appropriately they can be a very helpful tool to make a visit less stressful and much more safe for everyone involved. There are so many times that a muzzled pup or cat relaxes visibly, and is much more easily handled once it is placed. So keep that in mind….muzzle training at home can help so much to ease a vet visit – for dogs and cats!!

One final note – I want to brag about my staff for a minute….when I went to find pictures to use with this blog I got totally overwhelmed by the amazing number of pictures I have of our team being kind, patient, and going above and beyond for our patients. From sitting on the floor, to giving kisses and love, to feeding treats, to obvious care and gentle handling, to contorting themselves to make our patients more comfortable – it is so clear how much our team cares, and it makes such a difference. Seeing it in picture form when I’m looking for it, makes me so proud to work with the crew that I am honored to work with!

So get out there – handle those feet and ears, give lots of praise and treats for body handling…as with all things in life – practice makes everything better!

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