Is there anything more heartbreaking than the look of wide-eyed despair your pup gives you when they realize a seemingly fun walk or car ride has ended up at...the veterinarian’s office? While you know it’s essential to book regular visits to ensure your pup is as healthy as he can be, seeing that anxiety can be stressful—what are they so afraid of?! Vet fear is actually pretty normal, says Babette Gladstein, a New York based veterinarian. In fact, 37% of pups hate going to the vet, according to a 2014 Bayer Veterinary Healthcare Usage survey. Here, we get to the bottom of why your pup doesn’t like the vet, and how to mitigate his anxiety.
Why your pup is afraid: He smells fear
A large part of the reason your pup is so anxious has to do with all the anxiety the other dogs, cats, and hamsters feel inside the waiting room. “Dogs can definitely sniff out fear, and when they come into the veterinarian’s office, their anxiety levels rise because they realize that other dogs are afraid as well,” explains Gladstein.
Vet Rx: In large cities, a veterinarian who does house calls may be your best bet—especially if your pup’s anxiety causes physical symptoms like vomiting. But if your dog just seems a little on edge, limit your waiting room time by heading for a walk around the block after check-in, or allowing your pup to sniff outside the building. And for smaller pups, consider a carrier. “Hold the carrier in your lap and have your pup face you. Seeing a familiar face will help ease anxiety,” says Gladstein.
Why your pup is afraid: She remembers pain
Pups have long memories, and if yours got spayed, neutered, or had another painful procedure—or even got his quick clipped while getting his nails trimmed—he'll automatically associate the vet with unpleasant feelings, says Gladstein.
Vet Rx: Add some happy memories to the mix: Bring along your own treats and ask the receptionist and veterinarian to pass them along to your pup, so he associates them with tasty things. If your pup has seriously cold paws, consider a “just because” visit: Ask if it’s okay to just stop in to get a feel of the place without an appointment. Distraction is also key: Bringing a bone or a ball from home to keep your dog engaged can help take her mind off what may be coming next. It's also possible that the sight of your vet's white coat is giving your pup the willies—in that case, ask if he or she wouldn't mind taking it off.
Why your pup is afraid: She doesn’t like the vet
Just like humans, some dogs don’t get along with their doctors: If your pup is scrambling to get away as soon as the veterinarian enters the room, that’s a sign that he has a real aversion. Or if, instead of seeking out kisses, she backs off or emits a low growl.
Vet Rx: Before you write off the practice, make sure you give a chance for the relationship to develop. To help them connect, pass your vet a treat and give her a few moments while you silently observe. If the vet is still brusque with your pup? It’s a sign he or she may not be the best fit and it might be worth looking for a new provider. Conversely, if your doc seems brusque with you, but your pup obviously adores her, it’s worth sticking around with the practice—as long as you feel like you can get necessary information from the doctor, says Gladstein.
Why your pup is afraid: The room scares her
Bright lights, a big examination table, unfamiliar scents — the veterinarian’s office can be a scary place for a pup.
Vet Rx: Bring your own blanket or sweatshirt — anything that smells familiar — and place that on the examining table to remind your pup of home. Also, consider playing some of your favorite music on your phone — especially if she’s used to hearing it in the background at home. Finally, ask your vet if it’s okay to do the exam on the ground, rather than the exam table. Getting down to her level can be key in helping her feel more comfortable, says Gladstein.
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