Vet visits can be stressful. All those strange smells and sounds, plus the potential for uncomfortable pokes and prods, are enough to make any dog nervous. For anxious dogs, in particular, going to the vet is a trial.
However, anxious dogs don’t have to be anxious patients. With preparation, desensitization, and some helpful tools, your anxious dog might even learn to enjoy the vet. Read on for our top tips and tricks for taking an anxious dog to the vet.
In the interim, or if your pet’s anxiety is always going to be too high for a typical office visit, you can also have a vet come to your house. Services like Vetted help make it easy to bring the vet to you. They’re offering Rover readers $50 off, in fact.
Desensitization training for the vet
Desensitization training is a great way to address your dog’s anxiety around any number of fears. It involves gradual exposure to the anxiety trigger at a pace your dog can tolerate.
VCA Hospitals suggest that you start “at a level of challenge the dog can handle and then progress to more challenging situations.”
For some dogs, that means starting at home, before you even get near the vet’s office. For example, if your dog has learned to associate riding in the car with going to the vet, you’ll need to start before getting in the car. You can help your dog form positive associations by giving them lots of treats and cheerful praise when approaching the car.
Like any form of training, desensitization takes time, patience, and commitment. Thankfully, it’s a great way to bond with your dog and the rewards are huge. Click here for VCA’s full introduction to desensitization training.
Visit the vet just for fun
I know, I know: how can the vet be fun? But actually, making casual, non-medical visits to the vet’s office can help your anxious dog learn to adjust. It’s another form of desensitization training; the goal is to teach your dog to associate the building (and its smells) with positive feelings.
Most veterinary offices are happy to welcome visitors during off-peak hours. Just call ahead to ask if it’s okay to stop by. When you get to the office, let your dog visit with staff and sniff around the waiting room, and be sure give them lots of positive encouragement and treats.
Repeat these casual visits once every couple of weeks. Over time, your dog will form a positive association with the building (and maybe even the walk or drive to get there).
Exercise before the appointment
Physical activity is a common recommendation to help manage all kinds of dog behavioral issues. That’s because it works! Exercise increases your dog’s happiness and health, and wearing them out before a veterinary check-up can help them relax in the office.
Before your scheduled appointment, go for a long walk, or play fetch in the park for an hour. Whatever activity your dog likes that will wear them out, do it. Of course, this works best if your dog is in good health. If they’re going to the vet for an illness or injury and can’t handle hard exercise, try something else on the list.
Practice exams at home
My dog is anxious in many settings, but he’s especially nervous about being handled by strangers. Let’s face it: having your feet, ears, and eyes examined is weird!
You can help your dog get used to exam handling by practicing at home. Start practicing in short, daily sessions. Handle their ears, look at their teeth, and hold their paws. Be sure to give them lots of praise and treats as you go.
Get the whole family, and trusted friends, involved in this long-term training goal. The more people your dog can tolerate handling them, the better. Make it routine, and over time, veterinary examinations will seem like just another training session.
Find a vet who makes house calls
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Meet Momo who, in this picture, is in the middle of an acupuncture session. Before treatment Momo was unable to jump onto the sofa and wasn’t interested in playing. Now he won’t stop pestering his owners to play ball and can get up on to the couch unaided! 😊 #animalacupuncture #myvisitingvet #mobilevetmelbourne #melbournevet
Many anxious dogs are most calm in the comfort of their own home. If your dog is truly too anxious to handle a vet office visit, consider a vet who makes house calls. It’s far better to get your dog the medical attention they need at home than put it off because it’s too stressful to go to the office.
Services like Vetted make this easy; you can also try calling around to your local vet practices to inquire.
Of course, you don’t want your dog to form new negative associations at home! Even if you find a vet who makes house calls, it’s important to work on desensitization training and make your dog as comfortable as possible. Start with a social visit so your dog can get to know the doctor before they bust out the stethoscope. Most in-home vets offer free or low-cost introductory visits to ensure a positive first interaction for everyone.
Use an anxiety aid
If your dog is in the midst of ongoing medical treatment, you might not have time to build up their vet tolerance gradually. In that case, an anxiety aid may help. Calming collars, pressure wraps, herbal supplements, pheromone sprays, and other anxiety aids can all help make your dog more comfortable at the vet.
Medication is also an option, though it’s typically considered a last resort. My own anxious dog takes a mild sedative at home a couple hours before each vet visit. Just be aware that for some dogs, a medication that makes them feel disoriented can increase their anxiety. In general, it’s better to work on socialization and training that will ease your dog’s anxiety at the vet.
Calm your own nerves
Those of us with anxious dogs may internalize some of their stress. Personally, I know I tend to brace myself at the vet, expecting something to go wrong. But one of the best ways to help my anxious dogs is to be mindful of my own anxiety.
Dogs are highly sensitive animals and respond to the energy, and body language, of their humans. To ease vet anxiety in your dog, you have to ease your own. Take deep breaths, and remain calm. Move slowly and deliberately. Project calm confidence, and your dog will pick it up. Of course, it helps to have treats on hand!
Address anxiety in general
If your dog is anxious in general, a vet visit can make them extra-nervous. In addition to context-specific tools for managing vet visits, it’s important to address your dog’s anxiety holistically. In other words, treat the root of the issue.
Thankfully, Rover has lots of resources! For more information on dog anxiety and tools to help, visit these links:
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