Mr. and Mrs Petz, who recently moved to Boca Raton, are nervously driving to Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital for their pets’ wellness visits. As soon as they had unearthed the cat carrier from the garage, Cheese, their usually loveable orange tabby, dove under the bed and had to be dragged out and shoved into the carrier, as he frantically scratched and growled. Pickles, their hairy terrier mix, was excited when Mrs. Petz picked up her leash, but is now whining, frantically scrambling from one car window to another, and covering the occupants with hair, drool, and vomit. Thankfully, with the aid of the Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital team’s Fear Free approach, Cheese and Pickles had an overall positive veterinary visit. At the visit, Dr. Man and his team made several suggestions that the Petzs could implement at home to prepare their pets for a better visit the next time.

#1: Create a cozy cat carrier

Rather than getting out the cat carrier only when a trip to the veterinarian is imminent, leave it out all the time and associate it with good things by feeding your cat in or near it, making a treat trail leading up to it, or placing a favorite toy in it. To make the carrier smell like home, use blankets or bedding your cat sleeps on frequently, and spritz it with Feliway, a pheromone designed to help your cat feel comfortable and relaxed. Carry the carrier close to your body with both hands under the base and keep it level to help your cat ride comfortably.

#2: Diminish driving difficulties for your pet

If your pet doesn’t like riding in the car, start by associating the car with good things. Head to the car with your cat in the carrier or your dog on a leash, and feed them some treats or play with a toy in the parked car, and then head back inside. Work up to a short drive around the neighborhood, once again using treats, toys, and praise to create a positive association. Consider letting your dog ride along when you go through the fast food drive-through, pick up a curbside order, or do other errands, so they don’t automatically think a car ride means a veterinary visit. Keep the car at a comfortable temperature, play calming music, and consider using a dog-specific calming pheromone (e.g., Feliway or Adaptil) to make the car more inviting. Place the carrier in a level, secure, non-slip, comfortable riding area with good traction. If your dog vomits, drools, yawns, paces, dry-heaves, licks their lips, or whines while you are driving, they may be suffering from motion sickness, so ask our veterinary team about some medication options that can help.

#3: Petting practice makes purrfect patients

Some pets become anxious or reactive during a veterinary exam because they will be touched from whiskers to nose and their eyes or ears examined with strange instruments. Make it a habit to pet all parts of your pet’s body, with special emphasis on potential problem areas, such as their eyes, ears, mouth, feet, or belly. Start slowly, perhaps touching only one nail or running your hand over one ear, and then reward them with toys, treats, and praise to keep the experience positive. Eventually your pet will think handling their whole body is normal, and may look forward to it because they associate it with toys and treats. This preparation will not only make veterinary visits less stressful, but will also make medicating your pet’s eyes or ears, trimming their nails, or brushing their teeth easier for you.

#4: Paws to plan your pet’s pilgrimage

Part of a Fear Free visit involves using food to comfort and distract your pet, and create a positive experience. This tends to work best when your pet is hungry, so consider skipping their breakfast that day or feeding only a small meal. Bring a bag of your pet’s favorite treats cut into small pieces and a special toy from home in case they prefer those items to the food or toys at Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital. Leave yourself plenty of time to get to our hospital so you arrive feeling calm and collected. If you are rushed, flustered, and stressed, your pet likely will pick up on your feelings and mirror your emotional state.

#5: Take a trial trip

Our Fear Free certified team will set up a happy visit where your pet simply gets some treats and petting, and you then head back to the car—no needles, instruments, or examinations. This can further emphasize that the veterinary clinic is a fun and safe place, and gives you a chance to fine-tune your preparations before the big day.

The Petzs worked diligently to implement these strategies, and they paid off at the next wellness visit. Cheese had learned to love his carrier, climbed right in, and then sauntered out when the door was opened. He was relaxed for the entire visit and happily purred during his exam, including the portions that had upset him at the last visit. Pickles calmly and happily rode in the car, confidently swaggered into our hospital, and also breezed through her exam. 

If Pickles and Cheese sounded at the beginning uncannily like your pets, try these tips. For more information, give us a call, or check out the Fear Free website on giving your pet a Fear Free veterinary visit at Boca Midtowne Veterinary Hospital.