Fear Free Veterinary Visits for Dogs
Is your dog nervous when visiting the veterinary hospital? It can be an understandable reaction. If they don’t go often, the unfamiliar environment and people can be scary. If they do go often they might have associations with unpleasant procedures, and we can’t use words to explain why we need to poke them with needles. Maybe we should be more impressed that there are so many dogs who seem to love coming to the vet!
However, you don’t need to be resigned to every visit being a struggle or watching your dear doggie in distress. At Antioch Veterinary Hospital we take your dog’s comfort seriously. We want their appointment to be as stress free as possible. Our staff are trained in the Fear Free techniques and if we notice your pet is unusually anxious or fearful during the visit, we might reach out to talk about ways to help.
Taking it Slow
Part of this technique is not to push dogs past their comfort level. This might mean taking things slowly, and letting them feel comfortable in the environment, or with the doctor and tech working with them to calm them before moving on to possibly upsetting exams or procedures. If this is your dog, please be patient as we work. Each visit that goes well, that isn’t scary, improves their trust in us and each later visit can go better. Rushing and manhandling them might be faster, but will make important tests and treatments harder over time.
One of our go-to ways to make friends and calm our patients is to give treats. So please let us know if your dog has any food allergies or sensitivities that we should be aware of. For many doggies, sharing a treat is enough to take us from scary strangers to best friends.
We also use a pheromone product called Adaptil. We spray a bandana and let you put it on your pet when you arrive, or we might place one ourselves if we are doing a curbside or drop-off appointment. This product is also available for purchase if you think there are other situations that your pet might benefit from having the calming scent available.
When you go into an exam room, you might notice soft music playing. Studies have shown this to be calming for both dogs and cats. Playing music is also something you can do on the drive to the hospital if you like. Audiobooks, or calm talking have also been shown to work well.
If our usual calm handling techniques don’t ease your dog’s stress enough to complete the exam or any procedures needed, we might recommend postponing for another day. We may offer to send home a ‘Comfort Kit’ and reschedule the appointment. A ‘Comfort Kit’ is composed of mild sedatives that won’t knock your dog out or make them fall asleep, but will just relax them somewhat and usually we are able to then complete any treatments safely and without additional fear or nervousness for your dog. If you know even before your visit that your dog has a lot of anxiety visiting the veterinary hospital, please feel free to call us ahead of your appointment, or even while making the appointment and let us know if you think your dog would benefit from a Comfort Kit and we can likely make one available for you ahead of time. Usually your dog would need a dose the night before, and then again a few hours before their appointment. So you would want to leave yourself enough time to come in and pick the medication up ahead of time.
More rarely, a dog will have such severe anxiety about visiting the hospital that they will require full sedation to be handled. If your Veterinarian recommends this for your dog they will discuss a plan with you.
What you can do
Stay calm and relaxed. When we have had stressful experiences taking our pet into the veterinary hospital, we learn to be anxious about the experience as well. Our pets, and dogs especially, are very sensitive to our emotions. If you are dreading the veterinary appointment, your dog will likely pick up on your worry. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your appointment so that you don’t feel rushed, and have time to handle problems or delays if your pet is resistant to leaving for the visit. Use a calm voice with your dog, both when preparing to come to their appointment, and at the hospital.
Some dogs do better staying with their family during the visit, and others can get protective and settle down better if they are away. If you have experience about what has worked well or poorly at previous visits, let the staff know so we can include this information in our low stress handling plan for your dog.
If you are having an in-person exam and your dog has a favorite brush or toy, you could bring that along for them to hold, or have nearby during their appointment. Unfortunately, we can’t take these items in for curbside or drop-off appointments, and these special items will need to stay with you.
If your dog has a tendency to get car sick, give us a call and we may be able to prescribe an anti-nausea medication to make the drive to the hospital more comfortable.
If either you or your dog has anxiety around visiting the veterinary hospital, we have many proven techniques that can help. Our goal is providing the easiest, most comfortable experience we can for you both, and any recommendations we make will be with that ideal in mind. We hope this information will help you understand why we offer the advice we do and give you some tools to extend these techniques ahead into your preparation for your visit.