Pets make it very clear that they hate the vet. Dogs shy away from getting in the car, and cats shiver at the back of their carriers. Anyone with an anxious pet knows how difficult it is to get through an appointment when their four-legged companion fights the vet the whole time.
Vet visits don’t have to be an uphill battle. Even the most anxious pets can overcome their fears and show their best behavior at the vet’s office. These tips will help turn vet visits into an enjoyable—or at least tolerable—experience for your pet.
Simulate vet trips on a daily basis
Most pets feel anxious when they’re poked and prodded by a stranger. Help them get used to vet exams by practicing similar interactions at home. Gently touch your pet’s paws, ears, mouth and tail, since these are key areas during a vet exam. Start by touching each spot for only a second, then gradually increase the time. Reward your pet with treats and praise for every interaction. The goal is to make your pet comfortable with lifting, squeezing and poking around these spots.
Pet parents usually keep carriers tucked away until it’s time for a vet visit. Pets only see their carriers a few times each year, which forms a negative association between the carrier and vet trips. Reduce your pet’s anxiety about the vet by making the carrier part of their living space. Stash the carrier where your pet will see it all the time, such as the kitchen, bedroom or laundry room. Your pet will feel safer around the carrier if they interact with it on a daily basis.
Make vet trips fun for your pet
Pets hate the vet’s office because they know it involves needles, invasive exams and getting restrained by strangers. Pets only visit when they’re sick or need their annual checkup. Help your pet build a positive association by visiting the vet just for fun. Call the office ahead of time to ask if you can swing by for petting and treats from the staff. Your pet will associate the love and attention with the sights and smells of the vet’s office.
Some pets ride in the car only when they’re going to the vet. If that’s the case, your pet will become anxious just by approaching the car. Take your pet on more frequent car rides that don’t end with a vet appointment. This will help break the connection between your car and the vet’s office. Reward your dog with a trip to the beach, dog park or pet store. For cats, simply drive around and have a passenger feed them treats the whole time.
Prepare for the vet with calming supplies
A few helpful supplies can make vet visits run more smoothly. Before leaving for the appointment, spray synthetic pheromones inside your pet’s carrier. Pheromone sprays mimic the scent of a nursing mother and bring comfort to pets of all ages. Spray the pheromones on a towel, then drape it over the carrier to surround your pet with the calming scent. You could also give them a pheromone collar to calm their nerves during the appointment.
In addition to pheromones, consider feeding your pet a calming supplement shortly before the vet appointment. These supplements contain a blend of organic herbs known to reduce anxiety during stressful situations. Lemon Balm, Skullcap and Valerian root possess mild sedative properties that relax the nervous system with minimal side effects. Other ingredients like Hops, Chamomile and Passion Flower reduce excitability and relax smooth muscle. Ask the vet about proper dosage before giving a calming supplement to your pet.
Treats make a good distraction during vet appointments, too. They give your pet something positive to focus on while the vet does their work. Treats are a tasty reward your pet can look forward to when they visit the vet’s office. Consider reserving high-value treats like beef liver, human foods or pet-friendly pastries for vet appointments. Peanut butter in a chew toy can divert a dog’s attention longer than regular treats can. Some toys dispense catnip to keep your cat occupied for a long time.
For owners with anxious pets, it may seem impossible to have a successful vet visit. But any pet can learn to tolerate the vet, even those with negative past experiences. Patience, practice and tons of treats can condition your pet to make it through an appointment with minimal stress. With enough treats and praise, your pet might even look forward to their next appointment!