If most dogs had their way, they wouldn’t put one paw inside the vet’s office. It can be a scary place with unfamiliar smells, slippery floors, cold exam tables and strangers poking them. A routine checkup can cause even a laid back dog to feel stressed out. You can help your dog feel more at ease by teaching him some simple commands.
Go to Your Mat
A mat with a nonslip bottom gives your dog a familiar and safe place to rest while waiting to see the vet. It provides a gripping ability for his feet while on an exam table, the floor, or while being weighed. When training your dog to go to his mat, only use it for positive and pleasant interactions. You want him to learn it’s a secure and happy space. Some dogs might prefer using their favorite blanket instead of a mat.
Asking your dog to shake hands is a good way for him to willingly give his paw to someone. The more he shakes hands, the more comfortable he will be with having his feet handled. Encourage your dog to shake hands with your vet and other staff members to help him develop a relationship with them. This will be helpful when your vet needs to trim your dog’s nails or examine a leg or paw.
The field of study in veterinary medicine is wide open these days for people who love animals and want to pursue a career working with household pets, wildlife, farm animals or other animals. Advances in technology are helping pets live longer, and changes in the way animals are viewed have created a need for more specialized studies. Veterinary medicine is no longer just about caring for pets in an office. There’s even a field of study that helps protect our food supply. There are some surprising opportunities available for someone with a degree in veterinary medicine besides working as a veterinarian or vet technician.
The American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation is open for veterinarians from around the world to get an advanced degree in the science of sports medicine. Its main focus is on the structural, physiological, medical and surgical needs of working and athletic animals. Currently there’s two fields of study: Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation (Canine) and Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation (Equine).
Vets who care for shelter animals deal with the health and welfare of pets in a unique environment. In an effort to improve quality of life for pets that have been abused, neglected, homeless or given up because of medical issues or age, shelter medicine is an important and necessary field of study which also promotes the bond we share with pets, and improves the treatment of animals.
Many cat owners cite their kitty’s fear and loathing of the cat carrier as the main reason they don’t visit their vet more often. I can totally relate to that. I know annual checkups are important for pets, but I dread the day. Now, I have heard of cats going into their carrier without a struggle, and some that regard it as just another cozy napping spot. I’ve even heard of cats who enjoy car rides and don’t wail like they’re being mercilessly tortured. However, I’ve been a Cat Lady for a long time, and I’ve never had anything close to a carrier/car-ride-loving feline. Hence I liken them to unicorns, dragons and other mythical creatures born from imaginative minds.
That doesn’t mean, though, that we can’t take some steps to lessen the drama that ensues when the “evil PTU” (Pet Transport Unit) comes out. In addition to taking kitty to the vet, cat carriers are vital for moving, traveling and evacuating in an emergency, so it behooves us to make using them as stress free as possible. Your cat may not ever come to love the carrier, but there are things you can do to help them accept it. The goal is to ensure they don’t have a full-blown panic attack at the sight of the carrier, or go into meltdown mode in the car.
The first thing you should do is consider the context of the carrier. If it only comes out right before your cat goes to a place where they have a not-so-fun experience (to put it mildly), it’s easy to see why your cat would fear the PTU and run for their favorite hiding spot at the mere sight of it.
The solution is to make the carrier part of your cat’s surroundings, by leaving it out somewhere in your home. It doesn’t have to be conspicuous, like in the middle of the living room – just where your cat will see it often and become used to its presence. Additionally, the cat carrier will then smell like your home instead of a musty basement or dusty garage. The carrier may even eventually smell like your cat if they become comfortable enough to rub against it. You might also want to use a synthetic feline pheromone spray in or near the carrier. You won’t smell anything but your cat will, and the pheromones are said to have a calming effect.
Since the aim is to get your cat to view the carrier as nonthreatening, you should begin to create positive associations with it. First, place an old towel or t-shirt where your cat normally sleeps. Let them sleep on it for a few days so it smells like them, then place it in the carrier. Next, begin to play with your cat near the carrier. Use “fishing pole” type cat toys to encourage your cat to jump over the carrier or on top of it. You can also throw catnip toys near the opening and eventually, inside the carrier.
Veterinarian visits used to be difficult for us. Our dog would revert back to her shy and fearful behavior whenever we had an appointment. In fact, she would start trembling and whining when we pulled into the parking lot. While we had mostly conquered her insecure behavior in other areas, vet visits brought it all flooding back. It was an effort just to get her out of the car and through the front door. We knew we had to get serious about helping her. Our goal was to make trips to the animal clinic seem as natural as trips to the dog-friendly pet supply store.
The emotional state of your dog during a vet exam is particularly significant. If your dog remains stressed or fearful during a vet visit, anything that happens to her while she’s there can become something she will want to avoid forever. This unfortunate belief can result in the dog overreacting to even the simplest, most non-confrontational handling by the vet staff. With patience and training, however, veterinary visits can be less stressful. Now our dog actually looks forward to going! Here’s how we did it.
Practice visits coupled with positive reinforcement. The veterinarian we use is sympathetic to our dog’s shy and fearful behavior. He kindly allowed us to bring our dog around for random informal visits, without having an actual appointment. On these unscheduled visits, we always had plenty of her favorite CANIDAE treats on hand. We passed the dog treats out to the receptionists, technicians and other staff members so they could offer them to our dog.
Originally, she was not interested and stood statue-still in a crouching position. On subsequent visits, she finally started tentatively sniffing around. Progress! At least she wasn’t frozen in one spot, trembling and crying. As she gradually became more accustomed to the sights and smells of the clinic, she started to relax. Finally she began accepting dog treats from the staff. This took awhile, but she ultimately became familiar with the facility without the association of shots/handling/scary stuff.
This technique works best if the only people offering treats to your dog are the veterinarian staff members. Avoid the temptation to give the dog treats yourself. You want the dog to connect going to the vet with getting treats from the staff.
As responsible pet owners, we know how important veterinary exams are for keeping our dogs and cats healthy. However, just because we know it’s for their own good doesn’t mean our pets will enjoy the vet visit. In fact, most pets don’t like going to the vet, which makes sense when you consider how stressful it must be for them. Aside from the fear of being in an unfamiliar environment, they encounter peculiar smells and sounds, other animals, and strangers in white coats touching, prodding and poking them. What’s to like about that? Nevertheless, there are things you can do to help your pet tolerate vet visits and keep their stress level down, which will help you stay calm too.
If the only time your pet rides in a car is on the way to the vet, it’s only natural they’ll become agitated. For dog owners, the solution is to bring them along when you run short errands (just don’t leave them in the car in the summer!), take them to a dog park often or to places that allow dogs such as pet stores. This can help curb their anxiety on trips to the vet. I’m not sure the same holds true for cats, aka notorious haters of cars in motion. I haven’t tried “practice rides” with my cats, mostly because subjecting myself to more of the heart-wrenching wails they make in the car doesn’t seem wise.
Keep Your Emotions in Check
As you’ve probably noticed, our pets are very much in tune with our emotions. If you are stressed and anxious about going to the vet, your pet will pick up on that – so try to stay as calm as you can before you set off, during the car ride and while you’re waiting to see the vet. Speaking words of encouragement in a soothing voice can help your pet to relax in the strange environment.
Pets find themselves in animal shelters for a number of reasons, but too often, they’re surrendered because of behavioral problems their owner couldn’t or wouldn’t deal with. Qualified veterinarians are applying their specialized knowledge in animal behavior and working with pet owners to help them solve bad behavior so a pet and his owner can stay together. Like an applied animal behaviorist, veterinary behaviorists are helping to solve behavioral problems and keeping pets out of shelters.
Dealing with a pet that has a behavioral problem is extremely frustrating for an owner who has no idea why their pet’s behavior has suddenly changed. When a once quiet dog barks insistently for no apparent reason, it can drive a loving pet owner, and their neighbors, up the wall. However, the dog does have a good reason and to him, it isn’t an unnatural behavior. A cat refusing to use her litter box may have a medical problem or is upset because of a change in the home. A veterinary behaviorist can step in to help a pet owner solve the mystery of why their dog is barking or why the cat isn’t using her litter box.
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, firm, corporation or brand names, in this blog is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. All opinions in this blog are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company.