A tiny, terrified Chihuahua—appropriately named Peanut—enters her regular veterinary hospital for a nail trim, snuggled deep in her owner’s arms. The assistant who attempts to pry her from under the owner’s elbow is met with a snarl of snapping teeth. This poor pup has had some less-than-pleasant veterinary experiences. A timid dog, she began quivering, her huge eyes full of fear, during her first veterinary visit as a tiny puppy. The veterinary staff immediately muzzled her and held her tight to perform a physical exam and administer vaccinations. Each visit only fed her fear.
Cats are notorious homebodies, and Panther, a hissing, spitting ball of frizzed-up fur, sometimes lives up to that stereotype. Typically a sleek, elegant, black feline, Panther turns into his namesake during veterinary visits. At his first kitten visit, he was a friendly cat, happy to rub against your hand with a motor that never stopped purring, But, as time went on, he became afraid to leave home. Being shoved into a terrifying contraption, jostled across town, plopped on the floor between loud, barking dogs, and pulled from his sanctuary by his scruff, was an overall unpleasant veterinary experience. To protect himself from scary situations, he turned defensive.
Many veterinary practices encounter patients like these two pets. Yes, a trip to a veterinary hospital can be unpleasant, since pets are sometimes met with needles and medications, but we are working diligently to change this anxiety-ridden experience for pets. Fear, anxiety, and stress not only create severe, long-lasting psychological damage, but also physical changes. Heart rate, temperature, and blood pressure can skyrocket, skewing important vital signs necessary for diagnosing your pet’s illness.
If nothing is done to alleviate a pet’s fear, the anxiety escalates at each visit. As part of the Fear Free initiative, our team received training to achieve our Fear Free certification so this does not happen in our hospital. Many pets do not receive the veterinary care they need because of their fear, but we have the skills and knowledge to provide a happy, comfortable visit for you and your pet.
How we are working to reduce your pet’s fear, anxiety, and stress
If Peanut and Panther visited our hospital, we would do many things differently. Here’s how we would help a shy, nervous dog gain confidence in her veterinary team:
- Schedule happy visits — All puppies and newly adopted, older dogs can benefit from happy veterinary visits, which allow them to associate good things with our hospital. During a happy visit, your pet will simply say hello to our team, receive lots of treats and lavish praise, and leave without any injections, medications, or scary situations. Once a positive association has been formed, your dog will be pulling you through our doors to greet her favorite people.
- Go slowly — When we see a nervous dog who is unsure of the strangers approaching and handling her, we slow down. We completely ignore the dog and allow her to approach us at her own pace, rather than crowding her into a corner and making her feel threatened. We never snatch a terrified dog from her owner and, instead, will examine a dog in the comfort of her owner’s arms to make her feel safe and secure.
- Distract with treats — The quickest way to a dog’s heart is through the stomach, and we take full advantage of that. Bring your hungry pooch in with some favorite treats, or you can choose from our buffet, which includes yummy pill pockets, spray cheese, and many other tasty snacks. We use treats at every step—to reward a timid dog for greeting us, to calmly position her on the scale, to distract her while each nail is trimmed, or as a jackpot during vaccination administration.
For our freaked-out felines, we take a slightly different approach, but one that differs vastly from most hospitals that see “Panthers” daily.
- A cat-only exam room — There’s nothing more terrifying for a cat than sitting on the floor surrounded by yelling beasts. Cats feel safer from the advantage of height, and many are not comfortable around dogs. Our feline-friendly cat-only exam room is purrfect for nervous cats! Our cat patients enjoy hiding in the cat tree and being surrounded by calming pheromones released by our Feliway diffuser.
- Covering the carrier with pheromone-infused blankets — Pheromone therapy has been demonstrated to calm and relax cats, so we spritz Feliway on everything, including our scrubs and the blankets we use to handle our feline patients. We allow cats to relax in their exam rooms for a few minutes before proceeding with the appointment, giving them time to acclimate to the new environment and soak in Feliway’s calming effects.
- Performing exams in comfortable locations — While getting your cat into the carrier may be a struggle at home, removing them when they are at the veterinary hospital may also be difficult. Cats view the carrier as a safe, familiar haven while in a new place, and may not appreciate being removed. Depending on where your cat is most comfortable, we’ll examine them in the carrier or in your arms, or on our padded exam tables.
- Using bribes — Cats are usually more suspicious about food bribes than their canine counterparts, but we try to tempt them with a variety of treats. Food distraction is a wonderful tool for exams and vaccination administration, and also for making friends.
We are proud to be one of the first, and one of the few, veterinary practices to achieve Fear Free certification. See the difference Fear Free veterinary care makes for your pet—call us to schedule an appointment.