Trips to the vet can often be stressful experiences. Older veterinary techniques, which often involved forcefully or uncomfortably handling the animal in an unfamiliar environment, upset and traumatized pets. Studies have shown that veterinary care may be a contributing factor to anxiety in pets from a young age.
When Dr. Marty Becker, "America's Veterinarian," realized it didn’t have to be this way, he was inspired to found the Fear Free programs and courses to help professionals and pet owners understand how to better care for their pets’ physical and emotional wellbeing.
Pets are like children, Dr. Becker said. They aren’t able to understand why they’re being brought to the doctor or why it benefits them, and they often react with fear to the stressful situation. “The worst thing you can do as a pet mom or dad is feel like you’re hurting your pet or your child by trying to help them.”
He then went on to describe how a fear free clinic—one that aims to alleviate any pet anxiety from the get go—might work, such as by using an approach that “puts the treat into treatment.” To learn even more about Dr. Becker’s journey with Fear Free and his thoughts on pet wellness, check out the “What Does it Mean to be Fear Free?” episode on the Mella Moment podcast.
Here, we’ll share some of those ideas for reducing clinic anxiety for your pets, both at home and at the vet. Additionally, here are some suggestions for keeping track of your pet’s health through temperature monitoring, so you know when it’s necessary to see a vet, and you can learn more about how Mella’s products minimize stress for pets here.
Preparing for travel
Even the process of traveling to the veterinarian can be a stressful one, so one way to help your pet feel more at ease is to focus on making the ride there as comfortable as possible. For instance, you can help a fearful pet make more positive associations with their carrier and the car by placing favorite treats and toys inside. Dr. Becker suggested bringing out the carrier days in advance of the actual visit to help pets become accustomed to them early, and focus on making your car comfortable, too, on the day of the visit by preheating or cooling it as necessary and covering up windows to reduce visual stimulation.
As a pet parent, you can identify the objects or experiences causing your pet stress and teach them to associate them with positive feelings. Taking your pet to the clinic just for fun, and encouraging them to get to know the staff there can help your pet get used to the environment. Here, more casual visits can serve as a form of desensitization: by exposing your pet to things that scare them, like the clinic, and showing them that they’re safe, you can help your pet relax when they actually need to be examined.
Another way to help pets calm down during a visit is through the use of anxiety aids. Pheromones, or chemical factors that trigger a behavioral response, are one such example. As an alternative to behavior medication, certain calming pheromones can be used to relieve stress and anxiety in dogs and cats, though research on how effective they are is still somewhat limited. Pheromone sprays can be used both at home for anxiety-related behavioral problems as well as on the way to the vet clinic to help pets feel more at ease. Other anxiety aids include things like calming treats, anxiety wraps, and relief crates.
Going to the vet can be a scary experience for both your pet and you, but it doesn’t have to be. We can actively change how we interact with our pets to ensure that they are at their happiest and healthiest with us.
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