Fear Free Visits - the How To!

Imagine laying on your favorite blanket, just starting to soak up the morning sun. Perhaps wondering which one of the many other favorite sunning spots you may have to visit today. Then suddenly, and without warning, picked up and stuffed into a small plastic box, carried by a giant moving machine and then unceremoniously plopped onto a cold exam table while various instruments poke into some of your most delicate areas.

Alternatively, imagine being so excited to be driven out on a car trip to your favorite ball park. The thrill is almost palpable in the air! But wait, what is this? This is not the typical way to the park. And I remember this place – they stuck me with needles and said I was fat! No way am I going in there!

As you have probably already figured out, these two scenarios involve a cat and a dog being brought to their veterinarian for an annual wellness exam. No wonder they don’t like it! But it does not have to be like this. Here are a few tips that can make the visit go smoother. This is better for your pet, is easier for you, and helps us to perform a more thorough exam!

  • Prepare your pet ahead of time for travel. For cats, getting them accustomed to the carrier (see Cats and Carriers), and for dogs to the car and leash, are a must. Go for short trips, give loads of treats, and then head right back home!

  • Happy Visits. That is what we call a visit when you drive in, have your canine friend grab a treat, maybe even a quick trip on the scale, and then leave! No appointment needed, no charge, and free treats – what is not to love!

  • Calm the beast within. Feel-good pheromones like Feliway for cats or D.A.P. for dogs, aromatherapy such as lavender, and/or supplements such as melatonin can be helpful.

  • To stay or not to stay. Some pets do better during the exam with their owners, and some do much better away from them. Talk with your doctor about your thoughts, and what has worked with your pet in the past.

  • Training. This is something that should be done well before a vet visit. This will include, of course, the basics – sit, stay, and recall on command. But by extending out to such things as a “training mat” or clicker training, you can direct a pet’s attention and reward the good behavior.

  • Prepare yourself. Oftentimes our pets can sense our anxiety or distress, and will react accordingly. You may be concerned about how the pet will behave, or an impending diagnosis, but you will need to put on your happy face (fake it till ya make it!). Also being prepared means getting to the appointment 5 minutes early and having your questions or concerns prepared so that the visit will be efficient with no need to rush.

  • Drugs. Sometimes we just need to take it down a notch. Medication can help take the edge off, but by itself will do very little with an already revved up pet. Talk with your doctor about some of these options if needed, but I typically use this as a last resort.

Oh, and coming to the hospital a little hungry is not a bad thing! It makes those treats of ours taste just that much better!

If you start using these tips when your pet is still a puppy or kitten, they will grow up only knowing that our vets are the magical provider of manna – also called treats! And remember, at the end of the day, we all want the same thing – a happy, healthy pet!

Some books/resources on fear-free training:

Dr Sophia Yin