For many dogs a trip to the vet, whether for a routine exam or treatment for illness or injury, can be a stressful and anxiety-provoking experience. Faced with a busy day and time constraints, it is often tempting for both veterinarian and pet owner alike to just "get on with it" and proceed with an exam when confronted with an extremely stressed pet, even if this results in the dog cowering under a bench or exhibiting fear-based aggression. Often ignored, however, is the fact that proceeding inappropriately may intensify the dog's fear and anxiety levels at future visits, making things more difficult for everyone concerned.
Below are several tips to reduce your dog's anxiety levels at the vet and hopefully result in more productive, lower-stress visits:
1) With your vet clinic's permission, bring your dog to the office for short "fun visits" from time to time. Walk him or her around the premises and the lobby, get some treats from the receptionists at the front desk and, if you're able, perhaps spend some time feeding your dog treats or playing with a favorite toy in an exam room or treatment area. This will familiarize your dog with the veterinary clinic in a lower stress setting, compared to an exam.
2) If your dog becomes more fearful or reactive with noise, commotion or other pets around, ask the veterinary receptionists to schedule your visits for quieter times of day. In general, weekdays tend to be less busy at most practices compared to weekends. Asking to be escorted straight into an exam room upon arrival or, if this is not possible, to wait in your car rather than the lobby until exam time, might reduce stress levels in some dogs.
3) Bringing your dog's favorite treats or toys to the appointment to divert his or her attention from what the vet is doing may also be helpful.
4) Many parts of a typical exam can be easily simulated by a pet owner at home, to acclimate their dog to things he or she might experience during a veterinary visit - handling of the ears, mouth and paws, for example. Ask your vet for guidance on what sorts of things might be helpful to practice prior to an exam.
5) If you or your veterinarian feel that your pet might benefit from proceeding with an exam at a slower than average pace, it may be helpful to ask for an extended exam when scheduling visits. While this may cost more than a standard exam (which is twenty minutes, on average), if taking things slowly could reduce stress and anxiety for your pet, it may be well worth it.
6) If you are already aware that your dog may exhibit aggression at the vet and need to wear a muzzle for safety reasons, it is best to purchase a basket muzzle and acclimate your dog to it ahead of time, rather than compounding your dog's fear and anxiety by introducing it for the first time during an already stressful trip to the vet. Your veterinarian can provide you with information about purchasing a muzzle and acclimating your dog to it.
7) Finally, if your dog exhibits severe levels of anxiety or aggression at the vet, it may be best to talk to your veterinarian about the use of anti-anxiety medications or sedatives for future visits.
Best of luck preparing for a lower stress trip to the vet - your dog will certainly thank you!