Visiting the vet with your dog can be a traumatic experience for both you and your dog. They do not understand the importance of these visits, so it is important for us as owners, to try to make the experience as stress-free as possible.
By reducing the dog’s anxiety about going to the vet, we are making it easier for ourselves and the vet when these visits are necessary. A frightened or anxious dog can make it very hard for the vet to administer injections, examine the dog, or make a correct diagnosis.
If your dog has a tendency to act out or become aggressive under stressful situations this can be a very dangerous for the veterinary staff and yourself and could even lead to someone getting bitten.
Start training before their first vet visit is needed
It is a good idea to do some training with your dog before they actually have a need to go to the vet, this will get your dog used to the whole experience and make it less stressful when they need any check-ups or treatment. It will make everyone a lot happier if going to the vet is a positive experience rather than a negative one.
Try to get your dog used to be poked and prodded from an early age. It will help with vet visits if you get your dog used to being handled so try to do health checks at home. For example, check their paws, lift their tail, look in their ears, check joints, stomach, chest, mouth/teeth on a regular basis so this is not an uncomfortable experience.
Take your dog out in the car to as many different places as possible, you do not want your dog to associate car journeys with only going to the vet. Dogs quickly pick up on a certain routine so make car journeys a nice experience with a trip to the park, or a favourite walk at the end of it.
Take your dog to the veterinary surgery for friendly visits, take some treats with you and ask the staff to give them treats, try to make it a fun, pleasant experience and reward good behaviour. Watch the body language to see what might make them uncomfortable. Look for signs of fear at all stages of the trip, from the car journey, to the waiting room, the examination room, meeting the veterinary staff, how do they react to the other animals around? Take note of the dog’s behaviour at each stage to see what may make them nervous, this will help you next time you visit.
Things to take into account
What makes them anxious? Other dogs, other animals, people they don’t know, being touched in certain places, are they afraid of heights, previous unpleasant experiences at the surgery, separation anxiety (in case they need to be left for tests or overnight), unfamiliar smells, the sound of dogs barking in kennels? It is important to know what may trigger anxiety or fear in your dog in these situations.
The day of the vet appointment
Try to take your dog for a walk before going to the vet, this will help to relieve stress, allow them to toilet and make sure they are not too high energy when they are there.
Give them a little less breakfast on the day so that they are hungry for treats.
If you know your dog is anxious visiting the vet, wait outside or in the car until it is your turn, the veterinary staff will be more than happy to come and get you when it is time.
Take a chew toy with you for the car journey, chewing helps your dog to be in a calm state.
Make sure you are calm and not running late or in a rush. Make sure you have to hand any information the vet may need and prepare any questions you may have. If you are stressed before the visit, your dog will pick up on this and become anxious of what’s to come.
At the vets
- Take your own treats that you know your dog likes - ask the vet and staff to feed them some treats.
- Try not to be anxious yourself – your dog will pick up on this.
- Try to make it fun – ask your dog to sit, lie down, give a paw etc, this will distract them from what is happening, and they will appreciate the extra treats.
- Reward good behaviour at all times, every time your dog is calm, sitting nicely or just being good by not reacting.
- Use distractions like a favourite toy, especially if your dog likes to carry it around.
If these distractions don’t help and your dog is still very anxious, try not to make too much of a fuss over them. By comforting them in this state of mind you are basically rewarding this behaviour and telling them it is ok to feel like that. Save the cuddles and fussing for when the dog is being calm as you would in any situation.
After the visit
Your dog may be tired after the experience of going to the vet so allow them to be able to have a little quiet time when they get home. If you have other dogs at home remember that your other dogs will pick up the unusual smells so will be excited to have a good sniff, an anxious or fearful dog may not take too kindly to this after an unpleasant experience.
Training, rewarding good behaviour, positive reinforcement and desensitisation are always the best methods for any situation or unwanted behaviour but as a last resort there are calming supplements available to help reduce anxiety for such occasions. In the case of an aggressive dog you may want to muzzle train your dog beforehand in case of emergency treatment needed.
4. BCCS (2019) ‘Unit Two of the Accredited Canine Health and Nutrition Course’