How to Get Your Dog to Stay Calm at the Vet

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pets that get Stressed at the Vet

From your dog’s point of view, the vet’s office probably seems like the strangest, most forbidding place to be. Henry the Dog agrees.

Henry is a Beagle-y looking, normally mild-mannered dog who belongs to Sara, one of this site’s editors. She claims Henry is so afraid of the vet’s office that there’s no consoling him.

Hence, Sara’s special request for a post detailing the many possible ways in which she might manage to make Henry feel better when he’s forced to confront the dreaded veterinary hospital environment.

#1 Starting younger is best.

Dogs have a socialization window that allows them to be naturally more accepting of new people, places, and things when they’re young. That’s why pups should be socialized to the veterinary hospital’s sights, sounds, and smells from a young age. This window’s aperture is widest between seven and eleven weeks of age but that doesn’t mean that older dogs can’t become acclimated too.

#2 Get him used to “vet stuff.”

Whether it’s getting your dog used to having his feet handled, his belly palpated, or his teeth examined, it’s really useful to have dogs feel comfortable being poked and prodded by others. Again, younger is better.

That’s why lots of basic canine behavior classes suggest including “vet stuff” like this as part of their “good manners” repertoire. Learning how to wear a muzzle and being comfortable in a crate will also go a long way towards making your dog more comfortable when he has to be at the vet.

#3 Take him to the vet… just for fun.

If every time you went to the doctor bad things happened, you’d hate going to the doctor too (and maybe you do). However, if sometimes only good things happened, you might start thinking differently.

That’s the idea behind bringing your dog to the vet’s office just for fun. In fact, lots of veterinary hospitals encourage this practice. Come on in, let us give him a treat and some fun attention, and then be on your way. Maybe use it as an excuse to weigh him. We really love it when you come by with no agenda save your dog’s own socialization!

#4 Reward him!

It should go without saying that rewards help, but it’s not necessarily a treat they need. Indeed, some of the “hungriest” dogs I know are so nervous at the vet that they’ll refuse to eat outright. In these cases, just getting them to take a rosier view of the situation is all you’re after – which doesn’t necessarily involve treat consumption. So even if it’s a new toy or his favorite game, just concentrate on getting him to where he’s thinking more positively about the location.

Unfortunately, sometimes that’s just not doable at the vet’s office. In which case I urge you to try offering him something happy immediately after leaving the vet. That’ll help, too.

#5 Use natural “chillers.”

I recommend a bunch:

  • Training is a natural de-stresser. That’s why I recommend that clients try getting their dogs to do any tricks they know while they’re waiting. As everyone knows, keeping busy helps keep stress at bay.
  • Massage your dog. Everyone loves this approach. And it helps de-stress the masseuse, too!
  • Dog appeasing pheromone collars (based on a natural pheromone produced near a female dog’s mammary glands) are a helpful adjunct to any vet visit’s stress-reduction protocol.
  • Thundershirt or Anxiety Wrap. These aren’t just for storms. These are for all kinds of stresses. In fact, my head trauma rescue dog Gaston wears one 24-7. He’s just more comfortable with it on.

#6 Use not-so-natural “chillers.”

As much as I prefer non-pharmacological approaches to canine vet stress, I will allow that some pets will have their conditions much improved with sedatives. This is generally the case with extremely fearful animals–– especially those at risk of continually worsening with recurrent sensitization to the noxious stimulus (us).

However, the use of sedatives should always be considered part of a longer-term strategy to reduce their anxiety, with anxiety-reducing behavior modification techniques employed as its cornerstone.

So there you go, Sara! And best of luck to you too, Henry!

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