Visits to the vet can be stressful for pets, which in turn can make it stressful for owners, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Leading vet charity PDSA has shared its top tips and tricks for taking an anxious pet to the vet.
“With preparation and some helpful tools, your pet can learn that going to the vet isn’t always a scary experience,” explains PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing.
“Whether you have a nervous dog, cat or small furry friend, going to the vets is a vital part of keeping your pet happy and healthy throughout their lifetime so it’s not a place to try and avoid. Reducing anxiety and helping pets cope with vet checks during routine appointments is so valuable, especially if you are then faced with an emergency situation and have no choice but to make that vet visit, nobody needs an additional worry at such a difficult time”
Before your appointment
“It’s a good idea to start preparing your pet for their vet visit before any routine appointments; you can do this in a number of ways,” Nina adds.
“If your pet is particularly anxious, you should let your vet know when booking your appointment, they may be able to book you in at a quieter time, or offer advice surrounding what to do when you arrive. Maybe you could ring them when you arrive and wait in the car until the vet is ready to see you. Alternatively, there may be a separate entrance for particularly nervous pets.
“Exercise or physical activity will not completely prevent anxiety, but if your pooch has a nice long walk or run at the park, or your cat has a play session before heading out to the vets for a routine check, they may feel a little more relaxed, as their exercise needs have already been met. However, some pets can become quiet stimulated when they are exercised and may become over-excited and thus more anxious during a vet visit as a result. It is always best to tailor advice to your individual pet.
“The vet is likely to examine your pet once you get into the consultation room, so you could try and get them used to this at home beforehand. Depending on their size, you could practice lifting and placing them on a table, as well as examining them ahead of time. Gently look over parts of their body such as their paws, legs, tummy, eyes and ears. Check one area each day and after each short check, if your pet has been calm, reward them with a small treat, repeat this until they are comfortable with the experience.
“Get your cat used to their carrier ahead of the visit, leave it out so they can explore it on their own terms, place a favourite treat or toy in there so they venture inside. Scent is also very important to cats, they will be much happier to go in the carrier and settle down if they can smell their own scent on the bedding inside so use blankets that are familiar to them rather than anything new. Try wiping the inside of the carrier down with a pet calming wipe or use a calming spray to help keep your cat calm and relaxed while travelling.
“For your dog’s journey to the vet, use a familiar blanket in the car as well as their favourite toys. You can also spray a calming spray onto the blanket, usually applied 30 minutes before the journey. Ensure they are secure and safe by using a harness and seat belt or a crate they are used to. Allow your dog to go to the toilet before leaving home or when you arrive at the vet practice.
“It’s also worth contacting your vet practice and asking if they would mind if you brought your pet in to visit so they can experience the journey and the waiting room. This should help to get them used to visiting and if they are rewarded when calm and relaxed there, they should start to associate the vets with something pleasant rather than a worrying place.
The waiting room
“With all the strong smells and loud noises, as well as other animals around, the vet waiting room can be a challenging place for pets regardless of how old they are or whether they have visited before or not.
“To settle your pet, you should try and sit in a quieter spot, away from the door and other entering animals. If you have a dog, keep them on a short but loose lead and encourage them to sit and focus on you (small treats may help with this). Larger vet practices often have separate dog and cat waiting areas, this helps to prevent fear or excitement amongst the patients, so use these spaces wisely. For small pets like rabbits or guinea pigs, they may find the cat waiting room quieter, but as they are prey animals, make sure they can’t see cats by turning the carrier around to face the wall.
“For vet practices that provide cat areas, they may have cat carrier shelves, where you can place cats in their baskets higher up from the floor and in their own separate space. If this isn’t an option, hold the carrier securely on your knee. Cats when scared like to hide, so keep them in their carrier covering three sides and the top (leaving one side uncovered if they do want to look out) with a blanket or towel, this should help keep them calm.
“Our pets can sense our feelings as owners so it’s important to also stay calm and relaxed when waiting to go into your appointment. That way it will reassure your pet that there is nothing to be worried about.
“Unless your pet has a reason not to accept treats such as a poorly tummy or you’ve been asked not to feed them before their appointment, being armed with small treats can help your pet during their appointment. Also rewarding them during the experience and afterwards will help them for next time.”
PDSA is the UK’s largest vet charity providing a vital service for pets across the UK whose owners struggle to afford treatment costs for their sick and injured pets. For many vulnerable pets, PDSA is there to help when there is nowhere else for their owners to turn. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information.
For more information visit www.pdsa.org.uk