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Behaviourist's Corner

How to calm dog anxiety for a stress-free vet visit


Does the thought of taking your dog to the vet fill you with dread? Our expert's advice can help make it a calmer experience for both you and your pet.


Dog

1. Create a calm journey

Your dog may be quite happy to jump into the car - probably because he's eternally optimistic that it'll lead to a walk further afield - but getting him in through the vet's door can be another story altogether.

'Your pet could be apprehensive and tense when you arrive at the vet because he's formed negative associations from previous visits,' says Inga MacKellar, an APBC animal behaviourist. 'Vet examinations are unfortunately not always comfortable experiences, so it's understandable that your dog might feel anxious and jumpy once he's realised where he is.

'Walk to your local surgery if you can, as this is the ideal way to help your dog associate something he enjoys (time spent with you) with something he may not like quite as much (the examination itself),' Inga advises. 'But if walking isn't a possibility, work on a calm car journey instead. If necessary, safely restrain your dog using a familiar dog crate, or with a harness and his lead if he's loose in the car.

'You could also try to make trips to the surgery even on days when your pet doesn't have an appointment. Ask the receptionist to recommend the least busy times at the practice, and see whether it would be possible to arrange to have a fuss made of your dog. Make sure it's a calm, friendly experience to help create further positive associations.'

If possible, hold off on your dog's regular feeding before you go. This will reduce the risk of car sickness or accidents, as anxiety and stress can make animals want to empty their bladder and bowels more frequently. If your pet does go somewhere he's not supposed to, try not to get angry and don't tell him off - any negative emotions will compound his anxiety. An empty stomach might also be helpful should your dog need to have any diagnostic procedures such as an X-ray or blood tests.

Dog

2. Limit your time in the waiting room

'Vets' waiting rooms can be a distressing place for some dogs. They're usually crowded, noisy and full of all sorts of smells only canines' super-sensitive noses will pick up,' Inga says. 'It's also possible for your dog to sense other pets' fear, which can increase his own anxiety. Ideally you should spend as little time as possible in this environment to keep his - and your own - stress levels down.

'Try to book an appointment early in the day to avoid waiting too long, and limit the time you spend in the waiting room by keeping your dog outside with you until you're about to be called in,' Inga advises. 'If your practice has the time and is happy to help, it can be a good idea to have a quick word with the receptionists and ask them to phone you when it's your pet's turn. You can then use this time to play and have fun together - again, repositioning the experience as an enjoyable, positive one for your dog.'

Dog

3. Take treats with you

Once you're in the examination room, your dog could become even more anxious and might refuse to go near the vet, causing everyone's stress levels to rocket.

'Your vet should be adept at gently handling fearful animals, but make sure to stick with one who you know is strong on these skills, as well as on medical knowledge,' advises Inga.

Of course, your dog will pick up on your apprehension and stress, too, so keep your voice and body language calm. Stand at his head, and talk to him, giving him treats when he stays calm during the examination. Unpleasant interventions, like having his temperature taken, definitely deserve praise and a special treat. 'If your dog likes squeaky toys, take one in your pocket. Squeaking it at exactly the same time he's having a potentially painful procedure may help to divert his attention away from the shock,' says Inga.

'Lastly, once the vet has finished the check-up, try not to test your pet's patience by spending more time at reception to settle up or collect medication. Check with your practice whether it would be possible for you to go outside and enjoy a quick game with your dog, or even to take him home, before nipping back in when everything is sorted.'


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