Help Your Pet Learn to Love the Vet

Cat at vet

I’m always excited to celebrate pets, and Be Kind to Animals Week (May 5-11) gives me seven days to do just that. Created in 1915 by the American Humane Association (of which I’m a proud member of the board of directors), Be Kind to Animals Week is an opportunity to encourage compassion toward animals.

In the nearly 100 years since Be Kind to Animals Week launched, we have come a long way in our recognition of the human-animal bond and its importance in creating a society that values its most vulnerable members and treats them well. We still have work to do, though.

Kindness in Action

As veterinarians and pet owners, we all have different ways of fostering kindness toward animals. Mine is to promote and provide fear-free veterinary visits. When my clients and I can work together and make that happen for a dog or cat, we’re taking the first and most important step toward a healthy life for that animal. Here are five of my favorite ways to take the fear out of the vet visit.

Know your cat's or dog’s state of mind. A calm or happy cat typically relaxes her whiskers, aims her ears forward, and holds her head high. Her tail is usually motionless, held either up or down. Relaxed dogs tend to hold their heads and ears up. The tail moves with a gentle wag, and the mouth is often slightly open. Conversely, a fearful or angry cat may have a whippy tail and laid-back ears. A fearful dog often has a closed mouth or gives an exaggerated yawn. His tail may be down between his legs, and his ears are generally laid back or pinned tightly to the sides of his head.

Help your pet learn to love veterinary visits. Take him in to the vet's office every once in a while for some quick pats and treats from our staff. We want him to think it’s normal and fun to come to the clinic, not scary and painful.

Teach your pet to ride safely and comfortably in the car. Starting when he’s young, take him for short rides while he’s in his crate or car seat or restrained by a pet seat belt. If possible, have someone sitting next to him handing out treats during the ride. Teaching your pet to enjoy car rides makes the trip to the vet less scary.

Focus his mind. If your dog tends to be nervous at the veterinary hospital, give him something else to think about while he waits to see the doctor. Ask him to perform all the tricks or commands he knows, and reward him with treats and praise when he does. This will help take his mind off his worries — and it might help distract you, too.

Give him a wearable hug. Some anxious pets respond well to the therapeutic squeeze of a compression garment such as a Thundershirt. Your veterinary clinic may have one you can borrow, or you can purchase one online. For an extra dose of calming power, spritz the Thundershirt with pheromones (available for dogs and cats) before you put it on him.

What are your favorite ways to promote kindness toward animals?

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