How to Make Vet Visits for Dogs Less Scary for Them
As many dog owners know, taking that all-important trip to the veterinary clinic can be harrowing. Dog anxiety medication can help, but here are some behavioral tips to work on, too.
Taking your dog to the vet on a regular basis is one of the most important things you can do as a responsible owner. If your dog is scared of the vet – or worse, if your dog is terrified of the vet – you’re not alone. This is a big reason why some owners put off or avoid altogether the recommended wellness checks.
It’s long been a common practice for many vets to administer anxiety meds for dogs to get them through the visit, but be sure to understand the nature of the medication and to ask if some behavior modification at home could yield similar effects without relying on drugs.
All veterinarians are on board for making health care less stressful for dogs. “There has been a growing concern among vets about the need to decrease the stress of veterinary care,” says Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, DACVB, head of the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic. “You can set up your dog for success in terms of health care by doing these things at home.”
Calming your dog at the vet means staying calm yourself. When you first adopt your puppy or adult dog, get her accustomed to being touched all over, like her belly, paws, muzzle and ears. “Make it a positive experience,” says Dr. Borns-Weil. “Play with her as you touch her, speak lovingly or soothingly, stroke her fur, provide her with favorite treats.”
It’s also a good idea to get her accustomed to lying on a mat, and to associate this area with rewarding experiences (again, treats play a big role in encouraging good behavior!). You should also adjust your dog to wear a basket muzzle. Even the gentlest dogs, when in pain, can sometimes bite when they feel overwhelmed by discomfort. “The threshold for biting varies,” say Dr. Borns-Weil, “but just about every dog will bite if she’s severely injured and you try and move her. Wearing a basket muzzle is just a little bit of an insurance policy in case it’s ever needed.
If she lives with another dog, or has a trusted canine buddy, you can bring that dog along too as extra reassurance. The same goes for a favorite toy or anything else that can serve as a “security blanket” for the visit. With permission, you can even bring your dog to the clinic on occasion for to say “hello” when you don’t have an appointment. This can make the place seem more fun – especially if there are treats and friendly faces to greet her.