Why Does My Pet... Misbehave at the Veterinary Clinic?

Scared cat at vet
When your pet misbehaves at the veterinary clinic, it's not because he's a "bad" dog or cat — your animal is scared.

As a practicing small animal veterinarian, one of the most common scenarios I encounter is clients feeling frustrated with how their pets behave at the veterinary hospital. Clients are often shocked or embarrassed that their normally well-behaved cats or dogs are refusing to sit or otherwise "ignoring" commands, pulling on their leashes, hiding under chairs, hissing, barking excessively, jumping on the veterinary staff or worse: trying to bite or scratch. I can’t tell you how many times I hear pet owners say, “I don’t know what’s wrong with my pet!”

This problem can be bad enough that some pet owners dread taking their pets to their veterinarians. Some clients will forgo vital veterinary care altogether to avoid embarrassing or difficult situations with their pets. The good news is that I, and most veterinary professionals, understand that your pet isn’t a disobedient or "bad" dog or cat; your pet is scared.

Visiting the Vet Can Be Overwhelming to Your Pet

When a pet owner apologizes for his or her pet's bad behavior during a veterinary visit, I use the opportunity to educate the client about the signs of fear in pets and the effects it can have on their behavior. I usually equate it with the way I look and feel when I go to the dentist: stressed and scared. 

Does Your Pet Misbehave at the Veterinary Clinic?
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Dogs and cats who are normally easygoing can feel so much fear at the veterinary hospital that they become aggressive and next to impossible to handle. This can be bewildering to pet owners who are accustomed to having well-behaved pets at home.

Board-certified behaviorist and UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine Behavior Service Chief-of-Staff Melissa Bain, DVM, DACVB, DACAW, MS says, “Aggressive postures are one manner in which an animal keeps the 'scary' thing away.” In this case, the "scary thing" could be how your pet views veterinary staff. Bain also says that if people are keener on reading an animal’s body language before the pet displays aggressive postures, and then leave the animal alone, he will be less likely to resort to displaying aggression.

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