Like people and their physician, the simple mention or thought of going to the veterinarian can strike fear and anxiety in your pet. From strange smells, to strange barking and meowing pets, to new people poking and prodding, your pet has a lot to handle and accept. Many pets seem to have a sixth sense on the day of their veterinary appointment, and will respond by hiding, or refusing to load into their carrier. Although cancelling your stressed pet’s veterinary examination may be tempting, regular preventive care visits are critical to ensure your pet survives into their grey muzzle years. Our Walnut Creek Vet Hospital team wants to ensure your pet’s veterinary visits are stress-free, and we have compiled four tips to help prepare your pet.
#1: Learn to recognize your pet’s fear and anxiety signs
Pets, especially cats, are skilled at masking illness, pain, and fear. Their stress, fear, and anxiety can present in many ways, and may not always be obvious to pet owners. Therefore, learning to recognize your pet’s fear or stress signs will help you prepare them ahead of time for a veterinary visit, or other potentially stressful situations, such as traveling or staying in a boarding facility. Additionally, ensure you inform our veterinarian of your pet’s potential stress-triggers, so they can be addressed prior to your pet’s examination. Common pet anxiety signs include:
- Hiding, or avoidance behavior
- Excessive panting or drooling
- Barking, growling, howling, meowing, or hissing
- Biting or scratching when approached, or touched
- Excessive shedding during an exam or other stressful situation
- Pacing or hyperactivity
- Changes in eye and ear positions
- Changes in body posture (e.g., tail tucking or cowering)
- Inappropriate urination or defecation
#2: Familiarize your pet with their crate
A crate, or pet carrier, is a common mode of transport for many small dogs and cats. A crate is the safest, most effective way to travel with your pet, and can also provide a safe space at home when your pet is unsupervised. However, many pets have negative associations with their crate, because it’s only used when they are traveling to the veterinary hospital. Ensure that your pet’s crate is a safe, comfortable space that they can access at any time. Tips for helping your pet have a positive crate association include:
- Leave your pet’s crate out and open in the house when you are not taking them anywhere.
- Line their crate with a cozy blanket, and put their favorite toy inside.
- Provide ample treats and praise when your pet willingly approaches and goes into their crate.
- Feed your pet’s meals inside the crate.
- Create a calming environment around your pet’s crate with a small amount of a pheromone spray, such as Feliway or Adaptil, on the blanket inside the crate.
- Place your pet inside their crate with treats, praise, and a favorite toy for varying amounts of time.
- Consider taking your pet for short car rides in their crate, so they learn that the crate is not only for veterinary visits.
#3: Socialize your pet
Teaching your pet proper manners and socialization skills will help ensure they can adjust to variable environments and situations, and will help prevent a lifetime of behavior issues or stress. Learning is a lifelong process for pets, so regular exposure to various sites and sounds, such as a park or a pet-friendly mall area, will decrease their chances of becoming stressed during their veterinary visit. Ensure you immediately reward your pet every time they are calm and accepting of a new experience, person, or sound. Additionally, consider arranging an exam-free visit with our Walnut Creek Vet Hospital team for a meet-and-greet. An exam-free visit will allow your pet to become familiar with the sounds, smells, and faces of our hospital prior to their examination visit.
#4: Practice handling your pet
Handling your pet’s ears, mouth, and feet during their examination can be challenging for our veterinary team, since many pets resist these body parts being touched. Regularly teaching your pet to accept handling, grooming, and gentle restraint will increase their overall quality of life. Additionally, acclimating your pet to being handled will ensure our veterinarian can provide proper preventive care checkups, to ensure your pet remains healthy. Perform daily home acclimation handling sessions with your pet, which should include the following:
- Providing continuous praise, and high value treats during handling
- Handling their feet, and toe nails, to prepare them for a nail trim
- Touching, holding, and looking inside your pet’s ears, to prepare them to accept an otoscopic exam checking for looming infections
- Teaching them to present their paws, in anticipation of an examination or nail trim
- Gently touching their face and opening their mouth
- Practicing placing a muzzle on them, in case one is required during their veterinary exam
Our Walnut Creek Vet Hospital team wants to ensure your pet has a pawsitive association with their veterinary visit. Call our office if you have questions about preparing your pet for a stress-free visit, or to schedule an appointment for an exam-free visit to prepare your pet for important preventive care.