Low Stress veterinary care is a paradigm shift within the veterinary industry. The change is happening because we are better able to understand the connections between a stressful visit and a pet’s overall wellness. In this article, you will learn exactly why low stress care is critical for your pet’s mental and physical health, along with signs that your pet is stressed during their visit, and the steps that a veterinary practice should take in order to provide truly exceptional care. You will gain a new outlook that will empower your pet to have a happier and healthier life!


Why it matters

Stress jeopardizes diagnostics
Perhaps the most important reason that low stress veterinary care is critical for your dog or cat is that heightened stress levels alter different physiological systems in your pet. Your dog or cat’s body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate are all intimately connected with their stress levels. Additionally, stress also increases blood sugar and white blood cells on bloodwork, and may even cause changes in certain findings on x-rays and ultrasound. A stressed pet is likely to give off abnormal readings, and it is difficult to know whether it’s purely the result of stress, or if there is another problem contributing to these readings. Additionally, pets will often instinctively hide symptoms of illness when they are feeling stressed. But while this may have been useful in their evolutionary past, it jeopardizes the ability of your veterinary team to make an accurate diagnosis.

Stress lowers compliance rates
Another reason low stress veterinary care matters is compliance in veterinary exams. Many pet owners (quite understandably!) are reluctant to schedule important veterinary exams for their dog or cat when they believe it causes stress in their companion. Pet owners do this because they want to protect their dog or cat, but the unintended consequences can be a critical delay in the care they need – whether it’s a wellness examination or even treatment. This is another reason why we believe so much in low stress visits – we want you to feel empowered to protect your pet without sacrificing their emotional well-being.


Signs of stress

It’s important to be aware of signs of stress in your dog or cat – whether you’re at the veterinary practice or just at home. Stress aversely impacts your pet’s well-being, and can even weaken their immune system.

In Dogs:

  • Excessively licking the lips or nose
  • Panting
  • Ears pinned back
  • Lips curled back (notice if they are showing more teeth or gums than usual)
  • Irregular tail position (such a lowered or tucked tail)
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Yawning
  • Cowering or hiding
  • Increased vocalizations – such as barking, whining, etc

In Cats:

  • Excessive vocalization
  • Aggressive behavior towards other animals or people
  • Hiding behaviors
  • Escape behaviors
  • Excessive grooming
  • Change in elimination pattern


What we do

There are two critical tactics for a veterinary team to do in order to keep stress low during visits:

  • Be mindful of when dogs or cats are exhibiting signs of stress
  • Structure an environment that is meant to reduce stress

Our employees undergo regular training on how to spot and care for dogs or cats who are exhibiting signs of stress, and take pride in being able to lower stress levels through low stress handling techniques and positive reinforcement (like treats!). Throughout your dog or cat’s visit, your pet will be treated with individual attention, kindness, gentleness, and empathy. We have also put a lot of thought in how to structure the environment that your pet has when they come to Southwest Vet.

We have carefully structured an environment that reduces stress for your pet as much as possible. There are a number of ways we do this:

  • Often times, your pet will go straight into the exam room. However, if your pet needs to wait in the waiting area, we have species specific waiting areas. When dogs and cats are kept in close confinement, it can trigger stress responses (especially because many cats instinctually react to dogs as a predator). This reduces stress levels from the outset.
  • Some of the scientifically proven techniques that we use to lower stress are calming pheromones and classical music. These can be quite effective at reducing the amount of anxiety your pet feels.
  • We make sure to examine pets in a way that limits the amount of vulnerability they feel. Many times, a pet is examined on the floor to help reduce their stress level. If smaller animals are placed on the exam table, no-slip mats are used so they have comfortable and stable footing.
  • We take special precaution in the use of medical instruments (such as needles and thermometers), as these often times spook or stress pets when not properly administered.
  • We go through great efforts to limit the amount of exposure (through sight or scent) that cats have to dogs, as cats can become especially stressed by this. Felines are housed in a separate ward with side-by-side kennels to limit any exposure to unfamiliar animals.


The Takeaway

Making sure your pet has a low stress visit isn’t just a kind thing to do for your dog or cat – it ensures that your veterinary team is better able to perform the kinds of diagnostic tests they need to in order to make sure your pet has the best medical care available. We believe in low stress visits because we want your pet happy, healthy, and by your side for many years to come!