Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How to Make Vet Visits Less Stressful

By Julia Williams

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.

Car Rides

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. 

Acclimate Your Pet to Touch

A visit to the vet can be stressful for your pet if they’re not used to being touched all over. Pets that have their paws, ears, chin, legs, belly, tail and other areas touched frequently are much less likely to perceive the vet’s procedures as invasive or threatening. Keep the sessions short and have some CANIDAE TidNips treats handy as a reward. Once your pet is comfortable with being touched all over by you, you might want to ask your friends and other family members to touch them too.

An important part of this touching routine is discovering sensitive spots where they prefer not to be touched. With a little patience, gentle practice and treats, you can help them learn to accept being touched all over, even in the sensitive spots. You should also get your pet used to being leaned over, held onto or picked up, so that experiencing these things in the exam room will not be as frightening.

Tips for Cat Owners
A recent veterinary study found that a third of all pet cats did not see a vet in the preceding year. Economics is certainly a factor; however, some cat owners don’t visit the vet because of the stress it causes their pet. Putting fearful cats into their carriers is no small feat, and most cats don’t relax until they’re safely back home after the visit. According to noted veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, veterinary behaviorists are helping vets understand feline behavior as well as designing facilities and protocols to make cats more comfortable. This will lead to many changes in the coming years, one of which is the use of cat pheromones such as Feliway, which Dr. Becker calls “kumbaya in a can.” He recommends spraying it liberally in your cat carrier, and he also wears it himself while seeing his cat patients, which helps them to relax.

To make the cat carrier feel less like a prison or something associated only with vet visits, leave it out so that it becomes part of your furniture. Keep the door open, and place a soft towel or blanket inside to create an inviting place for your cat to sleep. If they still steer clear, some treats and a sprinkle of catnip may entice them to go inside.

Tips for Dog Owners

Vet visits are stressful for some dogs simply because it’s a new environment. One of the best things you can do to dramatically lesson your dog’s anxiety is to stop by the vet’s office once in awhile, just to say hello. Take along some yummy CANIDAE TidNips treats and ask the receptionist to give them to your dog. If you have a puppy, start these “social” vet visits as early as possible. Be sure to call ahead to ask what time would be most convenient. 

Bring a chew toy so your dog has something to do while in the waiting room. You can also use the time to practice his basic commands or work on a new trick. Speaking of basic commands, training your dog well will go a long way toward lowering his stress at the vet clinic. The basic behaviors that are essential during exams include sit, stand, lie down, and turn around. Shake can also help facilitate foot exams.

Top photo by Adria Richards
Bottom photo by Rob Marquardt

Read more articles by Julia Williams


  1. Most of my cats are okay with traveling and the carrier, but 2 are terrified. We will definitely try spraying synthetic pheremones first.

  2. Our cats don't exactly relish going to the vet, but once they are in the carrier (isn't it funny how they suddenly become all legs when it's time to put them in?), they do pretty well. Really good tips, Julia. Thanks! :)

  3. That is some great advice. I guess I have always been lucky because my dogs don't mind going to the vet. In fact a very long time ago I had one dog that would jump over the counter when she got to the vet and just go in the back. Some of the feral cats do get nervous but I have some really good vets right now that seem to calm them down. In face the only time I have ever touched Magnolia is when she was at the vet. Crazy.

  4. Best action I've found with my dogs is to take them for a tiring walk before going to the vet.

  5. My two cats cry and yeowl piteously in the carrier and in the taxi. I don't have a car, so certainly wouldn't be taking them on short trips anywhere.

    I'm stressed, they're stressed...It's not pretty. LOL. Some passionflower extract beforehand helps calm ME down! (I took it a lot when Annie was sick, because I was so upset.)

    -Kim from Fuzzy Tales

  6. Oh if only ONLY only my poor cat would not get so totally stressed and wrung out. Heart wrenching is right. It made tears come into my grandsons's eyes to hear her fearful cries. My eyes too. I frankly cry that she thinks I am being mean to her She's convinced of it at the time. She has to go often, she's 13 going on 14 in a month and has some illnesses.

  7. Really great advise! You know, I don't mind the vet at all, I just hate that darn car ride!

  8. I know I am going to sound like a goody-two-shoes but all 3 of the pets I have had never had a problem going to the vet.

    I do do a number of things that you mentioned. One being that the cat carrier stays out all day every day with the door open and a blanket inside. That is probably one of the most important things for cats.

    I also either hold the carrier (if I am not driving) If I am driving I seat the carrier next to me, facing me and I talk and lightly pet my cat's nose when I am at red lights and I also play the radio. Not blasting music.

    We take our dog in the car as much as we can to places other than the vet.

    I try to keep my emotions in check.
    I know some animals have natural problems going to the vet but I really think a good portion of their problem is the anxiety that the pet parent transfers to them that they might not even be aware of.


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