If you’re anything like me you will dread visits to the vets with your pets. All of my cats bar one aren’t thrilled to be bundled into a car and driven to a place that stinks of dogs, other strange cats and then poked and prodded by a complete stranger (unless you have a cat like my boy Felix who loves the car and sits on the passenger seat purring away!). Most of my dogs are the same, even the more confident ones aren’t huge fans of the vets and often linger by the reception door pretending they need another pee just to avoid having to walk in.
So, step one - prepare. Cats and dogs are creatures of habit so anything new and unusual can easily startle them. If you put your cat inside a small cat basket on the day of the vet visit yet they’ve never seen this basket before, or only equate it with something scary happening, then they’re bound to instantly feel nervous! Instead, keep the basket out a few days before the vet trip, pop treats inside it and make it a fun place to be. Don’t shut the cat inside the basket, just keep it open and let him choose when he wants to venture inside and then back out. This results in your cat associating the basket with positive things (like tasty treats) instead of negative things. Plugging an Adaptil (for dogs) or Feliway (for cats) diffuser in the house a few days before and after the vet visit releases calming pheromones which can help relax your pet making them less anxious. Adaptil also sell collars for dogs so popping one on your dog leading up to and during the vet visit is also a good idea.
Step two - remain calm. Try not to make a huge deal out of your outing and speak to your pet in a calm and soothing tone. Pop your cat’s favourite bed in his basket with him or take your dog’s favourite toy. When you arrive, ensure you sit somewhere with plenty of distance from anyone else and keep your pet’s focus on you, speaking to them calmly and giving them plenty of praise. I’ve been told of times where dogs that are normally sweet-natured have growled at other dogs or people whilst in the waiting room. This is perfectly normal and they only react this way because they’re confused and nervous. A dog’s cortisol level increases when they’re stressed so putting them in an uncomfortable situation (like making them say hello to a strange dog) whilst their cortisol level is high isn’t a good idea as he won’t be able to think rationally. The best thing to do is to give your dog space and keep meet-and-greets to walks when your dog’s cortisol level is back to normal. If you imagine you’ve had a long stressful day at work, you come home and your partner makes a silly remark which you can normally just brush off. Today, however, you’re stressed and just need some space so you end up snapping at them. Sound familiar? Well it’s the same with dogs!
Finally, after the vet visit give your pet lots more praise and take them home allowing them to have an easy, calm day. It can take up to 72 hours for cortisol levels to reach “normal” again so keep the next few days as stress-free as possible.