Although our pets can’t technically speak, they definitely understand what a trip to the veterinarian means. Sometimes, our four-legged friends seem to have a sixth sense and can anticipate when their annual veterinary exam is due. Regular preventive care exams are key to ensure your pet lives a long, healthy life by your side, yet many pet parents, especially those with frisky felines, are reluctant to make veterinary visits because their pet becomes so stressed.

Our Southwest Vet team of Fear Free certified veterinary professionals has taken extra steps to ensure that once your pet arrives at our hospital, they have a pawsitive and stress free experience. However, by first preparing your pet at home, you can help ensure a more successful, low-stress veterinary visit. Here are five ways to prepare your pet. 

#1: Practice handling your pet

Handling their ears and feet are two of the biggest challenges your family veterinarian encounters when examining a pet. However, conditioning your pet at home to accept handling, grooming, and gentle restraint will increase their overall quality of life. Take time daily to touch and handle various parts of your pet’s body, including their ears, tail, feet, and mouth. During each session, reward your pet with their favorite treat so they associate handling with something delicious and fun. Take extra care to touch your pet’s toenails and between their feet to prepare them for a nail trim. Additionally, teach your dog, or your cat who thinks they’re a dog, to present their paw in anticipation of cutting their nails or examining their feet. Checking your pet’s ears is also a crucial part of their preventive care visits to ensure they have no looming infections. The more frequently you handle your pet, the less anxious or stressed they will be during their veterinary exam. Such conditioning will also help ensure accurate exam results, since stress can alter your pet’s diagnostic tests, and decrease their immune system function or ability to fight disease.

#2: Acclimate your pet to a crate

Small dogs and cats are frequently transported to the veterinary hospital in a carrier or crate, which is an excellent way to ensure they are safe when unsupervised. However, many pets associate their crate with negative experiences—especially when they see their crate only before a trip to the veterinary hospital. Some helpful crate acclimation tips include:

  • Leave your pet’s crate out and open in the house when you are not taking them anywhere.
  • Place treats or feed your pet’s meals inside the crate. 
  • Put a cozy blanket and your pet’s favorite toy inside their crate.
  • Consider spraying a small amount of a pheromone spray, such as Feliway® or Adaptil®, on the blanket inside the crate. 
  • Place your pet inside their crate with ample treats or a favorite toy for varying amounts of time so they learn that the crate is not only for unpleasant veterinary visits.  

#3: Familiarize your pet with car rides

Our pets, especially our feline friends, frequently associate car rides with a trip to the veterinarian. Familiarize your pet with your vehicle, beginning with brief trips around the block. Gradually increase the length of the ride so they become used to the vehicle’s sounds, smells, and movements. Talk to your pet in a calm, reassuring voice, and play soft music to encourage relaxation. Test harnesses or pet-safe seat belts for your canine pals before using them for the trip to the veterinarian. After a smooth car ride, your pet will be less likely to arrive in a state of anxiety. 

#4: Visit with your veterinarian

Consider bringing your pet to our hospital for a meet-and-greet visit. An exam-free visit will allow your pet to become familiar with your veterinary practice’s sounds and smells, without the stress of being vaccinated or examined. When possible, introduce your pet to their veterinary team so they see familiar faces at their wellness visit. Due to COVID-19, we have had to change how our patients visit us—check our webpage for the most up-to-date information regarding curbside protocols. 

#5: Consider pet relaxation aids

Some pets, like people, are naturally anxious, despite attempts to decrease their stress. Prior to your pet’s veterinary visit, consider spraying your home or your pet’s collar with a pheromone to encourage a calm environment. For your extra-anxious pet, ask your veterinarian if a light sedative would be an option.  

For more information on preparing your pet for a stress-free veterinary visit, consider enrolling in the Fear Free Happy Homes program, or call our office if you have any questions about preventing anxiety before your pet visits our hospital.