Today Tom had a veterinary appointment. Not routine but nothing major, likely a simple skin infection. 10 days of antibiotics will hopefully do the trick. Thankfully.
I find waiting at the vet’s office hard. Emotionally hard. I’m not just talking about when seeing a person clearly upset having had to make a difficult decision there, though that is always heart wrenching. I’m talking sitting waiting at the vet’s office observing, overhearing people interacting with their pets is hard. Really emotionally hard.
The people who know their pets are stressed but have no idea how to really help their pet feel safer at the vet.
The dogs and cats feeling overwhelmed, scared.
The animals enduring a stressful procedure or event such as getting on the scale or getting a vaccine and no one valuing how hard that was for them. No real praise, no real support.
Today the hardest for me was right before we were called into an exam room. A dog was given an intranasal kennel cough vaccine in the waiting room while Tom and I waited. It was clearly hard on the dog. After it was administered, the owner ignored the dog. No engagement, no acknowledgement, no praise, no offering of a pet or a treat. Just ignored while the dog tried to make it clear that he really just wanted to leave right now please.
I wanted to cry.
It doesn’t take much for a pet owner to have some sympathy for their pet. To think about how to make this experience easier on them. To acknowledge all their animal is doing right and how hard they are trying to tolerate it all.
It takes a little more to actively practice low stress handling and husbandry practices with their dog or cat.
It takes a little more than that to practice vet visit prep exercises before hand at home.
It doesn’t take much for a veterinary practice to offer such information and resources to their clients as standard practice. To empower and encourage each and every client to support, sympathize and help their pet feel safe. To train their staff and organize their clinic in scientifically valid ways to increase comfort for the animals. The late Dr Sophia Yin’s company has some of the most widely and well known resources for low stress handling techniques in the veterinary setting.
But all of those things help immensely in increasing a dog’s comfort at the vet and immensely in increase you dog’s feelings of trust and safety toward you.
There are little thing every dog owner consider to make the veterinary setting easier on their pet. Some of my go tos are:
- Stop in for a weight only check so the vet doesn’t always mean unpleasantness to your dog.
- Always bring you dog’s favorite treats with you and give them to your dog generously during your time in the clinic. Always bring more than you think you might need. If your dog can’t have food due at that appointment to a procedure or medical reason, bring their favorite toy.
- Practice having your dog stand or sit still on a bathmat or towel at home. Bring the same bathmat with you to the visit, place it on the scale then ask your dog to sit or stand on it as you’ve practiced.
- Train a nose to hand or chin to palm target behavior on cue. This can be very helpful during exams giving your dog a focus point and place to keep their head.
- Praise your dog and stay mentally engaged with them throughout the time you are in the vet hospital.
- If your dog enjoys physical touch and massages, pet and massage them while you wait.
- If your dog thinks the waiting room is stressful, wait in the car or parking lot with your dog, asking the staff to come notify you when it’s time for the vet to actually see your animal.
- If your pet is stressed, singing to them can often have an amazingly positive effect I’ve found. Hum a nice quiet melody while you talk in a relaxing tone to your dog or cat.
- If your vet has a history of needing to muzzle your dog for added safety, condition your dog to be comfortable wearing a muzzle at home. You want your dog to see the muzzle and feel, “Yay! Muzzle time!” not experience fear, anxiety or discomfort.
- Empathize and sympathize with your pet throughout the experience. Acknowledge that you know it’s hard and you appreciate all that they are doing to get through the appointment. And of course remind them you love them very much.
- Advocate for your dog. Ask for little de-stress breaks during the exam. Play little targeting or sit down games while you are talking to the vet. Ask the vet to move things around in the exam room to increase your dog’s comfort. For example today I asked the vet technician to grab a no-slip mat for Tom to sit on when we had to do his skin scraping so he’d feel secure sitting there during the procedure. I knew the slippery linoleum floors would make it harder for him to sit upright and feel safe. The technician was happy to get it for me and the procedure was done easily with as minimal stress on Tom as possible.
- Ask for help or further resources to aid in reducing your dog or cat’s stress. There are many behavioral techniques and skills that can be practiced and conditioned to further help your pet feel safe, secure and cared for during medical events.
Knowledge and awareness are empowering. Vet visits don’t have to be traumatic for our pets. Each of us can do something positive about it.