How stressed is your pet during their visit?

Oct 13

Emi Baxter, DVM

How stressed is your pet during their visit?

by Emi Baxter, DVM

My brothers and I dreaded going to the dentist when we were kids.  We spent several years in Hong Kong during our elementary school years in the mid 70’s where dental care for children was not associated with compassion, caring, nor comfort. (At least that’s what my 8 year old mind remembers.)   We never had a stress-free visit.  Whenever we went to the dentist, we were in the midst of pain from a toothache.  It was always associated with pain, fear, and uncertainty. 

Without novocaine to numb our mouths, my mother had to typically hold us down while the dentist drilled.  As we got older, the threat of accidently drilling our lips or tongue, kept us still long enough for the dentist to do the work.  It was frightful, to say the least, AND painful!  To this day, I have an aversion to dentists.

How different the experience is today!  I was at the pediatric dentist office the other day with my children.  The waiting room was filled with toys, a soothing aquarium sat in the center, and beverages were readily available.  With a cool set of sunglasses, headphones on, and a little “laughing gas”, they even enjoy movies and video games during their visit.  What a completely different type of visit! They do not have the absolute fear and terror I remember experiencing at the thought of a visit to the dentist.  Don’t get me wrong though, they don’t love to go.  They still get a little apprehensive and nervous but what a massive improvement!

So what does this have to do with veterinary visits? 

The main distinction I see with dentist’s office from my childhood to the offices I see today, is that the experience has the patient in mind.  Their experience.  Their comfort. 

I got to thinking about the journey that different types of dogs and cats experience when they come to see us for a visit.  Some pets just love to come see us.  We get to love on and hug up so many happy, excited little fur babies.  We love that!  That’s the ideal.  But unfortunately, that’s not the case with many pets.  Some sheepishly come to see us looking worried and anxious.  Fearful and distrusting when being touched.  Then there are the ones that are so afraid that they rely on their fight or flight instinct in sheer panic, making it virtually impossible to do an exam without the threat of injury to the pet or to a staff member. What do they experience?  I can only imagine the fear and panic. 

Without the ability to explain what we need are doing or what we need to do, how can we create a “safe” feeling for them?  What can we do to create the best possible visit?  Can the veterinary visit improve as much as the pediatric dental field has improved?  Can we focus more effort on their emotional well-being as much as their physical well-being?  Is there a better way? 

Quite simply, we think there is.

What do we do in an effort to reduce stress?

In 2011, Bayer published its findings in the Veterinary Healthcare Usage Study that showed that 38% of dog owners and 58% of cat owners believed that their pet hated going to the vet.  26% of dog owners and 38% of cat owners believed that thinking about a vet visit was stressful for them. 

So let’s reduce that stress!

Here are a few ways to do that:

What we can do:

  • Fear Free Exam Kits
    • Kits are available to pick up prior to a scheduled visit.  These kits do require a current exam within the past year. 
  • Medications/Supplements
    • Nausea medications for those that experience car sickness
    • Sedatives to ease the stress of the visit
    • Natural supplements to promote calm
      • Anxitane (green tea extract) or Zylkene (milk protein)
  • Pheromone therapy
    • We use pheromone therapy to help calm our pets.  These are clinically proven to reduce their stress levels.
    • We have pheromone-infused blankets available at the front desk for your kitties that you can drape over their carrier.
  • Treats
    • We always have lots of snacks and treats for our patients whether they are here for an appointment or for a drop-in visit to say “hello”.  We encourage you to come in to have as many positive visits as possible.  We love to help you create
  • Fun toys
    • We have toys for both cats and dogs to play with while they are here.  Anything we can do to associate fun with us, the better.
  • Examination of pets where they are most comfortable
    • Sometimes that means they are on the floor, on your lap, or in a carrier
    • Exam tables with blankets.
  • Handling techniques
    • Low-stress handling techniques are used.
    • Sedation is given, with your permission, if we feel it may be necessary.
  • Separate waiting area for quiet or the ability to quickly get into a private room for comfort.
  • Well-fitted comfort coats like a thundershirt.

What you can do:

  • Get your pet used to carriers
    • Leave it out at home so that they become used to being inside and is no longer a source of stress in and of itself.
    • Consider feeding their favorite treats in the carrier
    • Apply pheromone therapy in the carrier.
  • Hunger
    • Consider feeding your pet the night before but hold off on meals prior to the visit so they are more excited about our treats that we have available.
    • Please bring your pet’s favorite snacks and treats for the visit. 
  • Stay calm and relaxed.
    • Pets can sense your emotions.  The calmer and more confident you are, the more they can count on you so that they too can feel the same way.
  • Bring your pet in routinely
    • The routine visits can help us get your pet to feel more assured and comfortable with their visit.  The rare visits during illness can be very stressful.

Together, we can improve the experience.  I know we can.   It may never be the absolute highlight of their day, like my children’s dental visit, but I know we can do many things to make it a bit more “fear free” and ultimately, less stressful for your pet AND for you. 

We have two locations in the greater Puget Sound Area. Northgate Veterinary Clinic, located in Seattle and Broadway Animal Hospital, located in Everett.



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