Unfortunately, many cats and dogs can become highly anxious when visiting the Vet. They are taken out of their comfort zone, may not like the car trip, or being placed in a cage, taken into a place with lots of smells, noises and other animals, which can all be too overwhelming for some.
Quite often they may feel this way when visiting other places such as the kennels, cattery or groomer.
Some of these pets may also display anxious behaviours at home if they feel threatened or uncomfortable. This may be when visitors come around, or you try to do things like clip their nails, clean their ears, examine their mouths, or even approach their space without warning
Anxious behaviours are not always related to previous bad experiences, as we can often recognize them in even very young pups. But life experiences can certainly exacerbate fears and worries as they get older, similar to people with anxiety and phobias, particularly if they are not appropriately socialized at a very early age.
How can I tell if my dog is anxious at the clinic?
An anxious pet may manifest in several ways, based on the fight, flight or freeze responses:
- Flight: the pet may try to hide, or will run or jump away when approached. They may not be interested in pats or treats, or hide away at the back of their carrier.
- Freeze: the pet’s body posture will be stiff and still with a tense facial expression, and they will possibly “whale eye” (where they face away but still try to watch for the vet’s approach). Cats may get low, curl into a ball and lay still as possible and
- Fight: the pet may put on a defensive front to keep veterinary staff away, barking, growling or hissing when approached and even snapping or lunging to bite if they feel highly threatened
- Pacing or inability to settle
- Ears twitching,
- Eyes wide
It’s important to bear in mind that any anxious pet may progress to aggressive behaviours (such as snapping, or scratching) if it is pushed too far out of its comfort zone.
How can we help anxious patients to feel better about their visits?
We try our best to reduce fear and anxiety in all visiting pets. Quite often if a pet is comfortable with an owner it can be a big help. Sometimes however a really worried pet may not allow their owner to safely handle them either. For that reason stress, fear and anxiety at the veterinary clinic is best managed with short term calming medication.
Short-term calming medication can be prescribed for any anxious or worried pet. These Medications are generally given about 2 hours prior to any visits, and will help reduce stress, but do not act as a sedative. Generally this will help with the initial examination and treatment, however if your pet is painful then we would consider a stronger sedative to firstly ensure you pet does not feel any unnecessary pain, and also to make the procedure as safe as possible for everyone.
We now prescribe calming medications and recommend their use for other stressful events such as
- Travel such as Longer car trips
- Visits to the groomer
- Thunder storms or fireworks
If your pet is very anxious about their visiting the vet or other places, have a chat with our team about how we can help.