Children with animals lying down on the carpet

Tips for Taking Your Scaredy Cat (or Dog) to the Vet

A lot of people get nervous when they have to go to the doctor. But imagine how much more terrifying a doctor visit would be if it meant traveling to an intimidating and unfamiliar setting to have an enormous stranger poke and prod at you for, seemingly, no good reason. Oh, and don’t forget that in the waiting room, other patients will be sniffing you, staring at you and possibly trying start fights with you. Now, perhaps, you can imagine why your otherwise placid dog or cat freaks out every time you get her carrier out to go to the vet!

Whether you’re taking your pet to see a veterinarian for the first time, or your pet has a history of bad or terrified behavior at the vet’s office, these tips should help ensure a smoother and less eventful visit.

Vet tips for both cats and dogs:

Make car trips fun and regular – Many animals, and especially cats, strongly dislike taking car trips – which, unfortunately, is generally how we have to take our pets to the vet! Car-avoidant pets might be scared to be in such an unfamiliar (and moving!) environment, they might get car sick, or they might associate car trips with unpleasant visits to the vet’s office.  To get your pet used to the car, use it to take them places other than the vet. For dogs, this might mean visits to the park or other places your dog likes to go. Although cats typically don’t like to “go” places, it’s good to take them in the car sometimes, even if it’s just to go to the taco shop drive-thru, so that they realize that not every car trip ends in a dreaded vet visit. Reward both dogs and cats with treats for good behavior in the car.

Make your pet carrier more comfortable – Your pet probably hates his carrier for the same reasons he dislikes the car: he’s not used to it, and/or he associates it with going to the vet. Change this by making the carrier a fixture in your home that your pet can enter, exit and hang out in as he pleases. Both at home and when taking your pooch or pussy-cat to the vet, place a towel or blanket, and some of your pet’s favorite toys in there to make the environment more comfortable and inviting.

Bring ‘em hungry – Don’t feed your pet in the few hours before taking them to the vet. If they have food in their tummy, they are more likely to get car-sick and/or throw up. Bringing your pet to the vet on an empty tummy will also make the reward of receiving their favorite treats – which you should give them in the waiting room to calm them down and as an incentive for good behavior – more effective. However, if you anticipate that your pet will receive X-rays of their bladder or digestive tract during this visit, you should wait to give them their treats until the visit is over, as any food in their belly might block the radiographer’s view of their internal organs.

Use calming chemicals – Dogs and cats create certain scents, or pheromones, to calm themselves and others. Thanks to modern science, you can buy products containing synthetic versions of these soothing pheromones to make your pet feel calmer during stressful events like a trip to the vet. There are both dog and cat versions of these products, which are typically administered as a liquid that you spray in the air or on fabrics/upholstery. About fifteen minutes before going to the vet’s office, simply spray a good amount of the pheromone product on the towel or blanket inside of the carrier you use to transport your furry friend, per the product’s instructions. If your pet has a history of especially severe anxiety or aggression at the vet, your veterinarian may also prescribe a short-acting anti-anxiety medication that you can give your dog or cat before bringing them in.

Do your research – As a pet owner, you are probably all too aware that trips to the vet can frazzle the owner’s nerves, too! If your pet is acting up, you may be too distracted to ask the vet pertinent questions and pay attention to what she tells you. Therefore, it’s important that you do some pre-appointment research and planning ahead of time so that you come prepared. Your first step of research, before you even make that appointment, is to find a vet with strong credentials and a good reputation. Your pet will probably have a much better reaction to a vet who knows what they’re doing and has a calming demeanor than compared to an inexperienced or inept vet. So, check the vet’s reputation on Yelp or a similar service. Next, research your pet’s condition online so you have a good idea of what to expect, including possible diagnoses, projected costs, and available treatment options. Finally, think of good questions to ask (e.g., questions about the benefits of one treatment over another, or how to administer medicine) and write them down before you go in.

Additional vet tips for cats:

Choose the right carrier – That is, a hard plastic carrier which has a top-loading option. These are much easier to get your kitty in and out of compared to side-loading carriers. Also, it’s especially important that you put a towel in your pet carrier if you have a cat – cats, of course, use their claws to grip onto things for balance, and if your cat doesn’t have anything that she can sink her claws into, she’ll feel a lot less secure in her carrier.

Let the vet do their thing – You may think that you’re helping out in the vet’s office by petting or holding your cat, but it’s generally best to let your vet or the vet’s technician do all the handling of your cat. Your touch may actually over-stimulate the cat and cause him to bite or scratch you. The people who work at your vet’s office are trained in handling scared kitties.

Additional vet tips for dogs:

Take them on a walk first – The exercise will put them in a calmer, more docile mood. Make sure that your pup relieves himself during his walk so that he’s less likely to have an accident at the vet’s office or – even worse – in the car.

Visit the vet for fun – In addition to regular check-ups, consider occasionally taking your dog into the vet just to visit and get a treat. Like regular car trips and exposure to their carrier, this will help your doggy associate a trip to the vet with normalcy – and if possibly even good times.

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