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Want to make your pet’s trip to the veterinarian easier on you, your pet and the entire staff of the veterinary hospital? My advice for you is simple: Relax.
Though there are a lot of other things you can do, I find that a change of attitude can have the most dramatic effect. If that surprises you, it shouldn’t. Our pets are incredibly attuned to our moods, and if you’re acting as if a veterinary visit is a bad thing, your dog or cat is more likely to feel that way, too. A cheerful, optimistic outlook is contagious, not only by animals but also by the folks at the veterinary hospital. Of all the things that can be spread at a medical facility, a positive outlook is the one I hope goes viral. It just makes things so much easier for everyone.
Adopting a more relaxed attitude may be the easiest thing you can do, but it’s not the only strategy to help get your pet through a veterinary visit with minimal anxiety. Here are more techniques.
For many pets, especially cats, car trips seem to end poorly (in the pet’s opinion). If the only time you got in a car you were going to get a shot or have a stranger poke a thermometer somewhere you’d rather he didn’t, you’d have a bad attitude about travel, too. Mix it up. Take your pet for rides he’ll enjoy. For dogs, head for a place to hike or to a store where pets are welcome. Though your cat likely won’t enjoy visiting, just getting out for a ride with treats and praise can help make him less nervous about future journeys.
Like the car, for many animals a carrier means a trip to the veterinarian because that's the only time they're in one. That’s why many pets make themselves scarce the moment the carrier comes up from the basement or down from the garage rafters. Change the script: Make the carrier part of the household furnishings. Though you may not want it as part of your formal living room, make space for it in an area your pet sees daily, such as the laundry room. Pets who are familiar with their carriers are more comfortable in them when it comes time to get on the road.
Synthetic pheromones mimic scents animals create to calm themselves and others. They’re available for both dogs and cats, and in many cases they can help calm an anxious pet. Spritz some on the cushion or towel inside the carrier, and spray even more on a towel to put over the carrier. This will turn the carrier into the cat equivalent of a cozy den with the smell of cookies coming from the kitchen.
And speaking of cookies, take treats but make sure your pet is hungry enough to want them. It won’t kill your pet to skip the meal before a veterinary visit, but it will make the treats you’ll have at the hospital seem even more delicious. Bring on the really yummy, juicy, meaty treats, such as baby-food meat sticks, deli turkey or bonita flakes for cats.
My longtime friend and fellow Vetstreet pet expert Arden Moore gave me this tip, and I love it! If you have more than one pet, take them all in when you visit the vet. Let them all get treats and praise. It will teach them that the vet's office is a fun place to be. Only one gets the “real” veterinary visit, but they all get a good experience. Or if you're a single-pet person, arrange to take your pet into the vet's office for a visit and treats when there’s nothing wrong. The results will be the same.
Some pets really need a little more help than a loving owner can provide. If your pet is one of these, ask your veterinarian to prescribe a mild antianxiety medication for your next visit.
Obviously, you’ll need to work out the details with your veterinarian before you put some of these strategies into place, but I doubt you’ll have any problem doing so. We veterinarians love animals, and we don’t like seeing them scared of us. Anything that can change a scaredy cat into a happy pet is something we can get behind — so much so that you shouldn't be at all surprised to see your veterinarian also working to make visits more pleasant for all.
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