7 Ways to Help De-stress Pets During Vet Visits

Cat and veterinarian
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Is your pet anxious during veterinary appointments? Talk to your veterinarian about fear-free veterinary visits.

There’s no two ways about it: Health care can be stressful. Whether we’re talking humans or animals, home or hospital care, many things medical are stressful. As a veterinarian, a mother and a patient, it’s my opinion that stress is always worst for those who don’t understand why they need to suffer medications, stand for IV catheters and spend nights under bright lights as blue-clad people poke and prod at them.

In other words, our animals and our youngest children can have it bad. Still — for pets, anyway — that doesn’t mean we can’t help soothe their nerves along the way.

Help Take the Strain Out of Vet Visits

So what's a concerned pet owner to do? Here are a few tips to help you on your way:

1. Make vet visits easier.

Within our profession, a lot has been written about how low-stress handling by veterinary workers can help alleviate anxiety and make visits as fear free as possible. In fact, Fear Free ® practice certification is now a thing, helping veterinary hospitals bring lower-stress care to patients everywhere. (Full disclosure: I’m on the Fear Free Council's advisory board.) Talk to your veterinarian about what she can do to help your pet during the visit.

2. Ask for the medication formulation your pet tolerates best. Few like taking medication, much less those who don’t understand why that chalky pill or bitter liquid needs to go down their throat. Now that compounding pharmacies have come to the aid of veterinary medicine, nasty-tasting pills can potentially be a thing of the past.

Many meds can be formulated as liquids, chewable tablets, easy-to-hide capsules or transdermal gels (these get absorbed through the skin). Sure, they can be pricey, but most of my clients agree they're worth it.

3. Don’t cram too much stressful stuff into one big bad day –– especially when your pet’s feeling poorly. It always surprises me when a client apologizes for not having bathed their pet in advance of their vet visit. Few stressed-out pets need a bath –– much less when they're feeling lousy. And I’m pretty sure the last thing my terrified feline patient wants to do right after her vet visit is head to the groomer’s or the boarding facility or ride along on a never-ending round of errands.

4. Hospitalization can be less stressful if you offer your pets some simple amenities. Depending on your clinic’s policies, you may be able to bring your pet’s own food, his personal blanket, favorite toy and maybe a little scrap of your own clothing. If you have a cat, consider requesting that the staff use a feline pheromone spray in her cage. (You might want to bring your own, since not all hospitals have this handy.) If you have a dog, a pheromone collar might just help keep him calmer during his stay.

5. Employ sedatives when they’re recommended. Most veterinarians have become very savvy about when sedatives can help. Moreover, the science of sedation in pets has come a long way. You might just be surprised at the stress-reducing efficacy of veterinary drugs, some of which are short-acting or reversible.

6. Pay attention to the car ride. Getting your pet to the veterinarian is the most stressful aspect of health care for some vehicle-phobic pets. Even if it’s not the worst bit of it for your crew, consider that transportation stress can be mitigated in many ways. Using anti-nausea meds for the motion sick-prone, employing the right kind of carrier for cats and keeping dogs contained in one spot (via crate or safety restraint) can do wonders to reduce stress and help keep your pet safer.

7. Consider house calls for the most stressed pets. I make house calls. Your vet might just come out to your house, too. Sure, I charge an extra $100 and won’t do it for anyone who isn’t an established client or lives more than five miles away, but if this sounds like it’s more up your pet’s alley than a vet visit, you should definitely ask your veterinarian if she'd comply. Alternatively, you could ask your veterinarian if she'd recommend someone. Whenever I’m unavailable or too far away, I have a nice list handy. Your veterinarian might, too.

Still stressed? Don’t be. Do what you can and let go of what you can’t. After all, one thing’s for sure: Stressed-out owners make for even more stressed-out pets.

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