Visits to the vet can be a worrying time for both you and your dog. Older pets can be especially anxious, and one way that you can help ease anxiety is by helping your pooch to become comfortable with the journey to the clinic in advance.
For many owners, going to the vet involves driving. If your regular routine means a car trip is unusual, you might need to take a few measures to keep your dog relaxed and prepare him for the journey ahead.
It’s common for pets to become more anxious as they age, so if your dog is worried about getting into the car, try to make the process into a game that he can enjoy. Explore and play in the car with the engine off at first, offering a few treats as part of the game. If you use a harness to keep him safe, introduce it to him alongside the engine noise.
Build up positive associations with car travel by taking short journeys that end somewhere your dog enjoys – a park or the countryside, for example, on the outward journey, and home to a portion of his daily food. He may struggle to get in and out of the car due to achy joints, in which case you can help him by creating a ramp from a sturdy plank of wood (covered with a material like chicken wire to stop him slipping).
If you prefer to use a crate to a harness, but your dog is scared of the crate because he associates it with a trip to the vet, it’s really important to prepare him for getting into it ahead of the day of the appointment.
Leave the crate around the house for a few days so he can familiarise himself with it over time. Create positive associations with the crate by putting treats or toys in it for him to find, and never shut your dog in the crate when he is getting used to it.
If your dog has suffered from travel sickness in the past, you can help by making sure he doesn’t have a full stomach before the journey – provide a light meal about two hours before you leave. For older dogs, you need to think a bit more about toilet trips, too – make sure he’s had a chance to relieve himself shortly before you leave, and again on arrival at the vet.
How you act around your dog on the day of the appointment can also have a big effect on him. Try to strike a balance between reassuring him, and behaving completely normally. Our canine friends are better than we think at picking up on our feelings, and making too much of a fuss can increase anxiety if your dog thinks something unusual is happening.
Read more about car travel with your pet here.