From the VetPartners Experts: How to Help Pets Enjoy a Visit to the Vet

Jul 19, 2019 at 5:35 am
Ruth Garcia

Every veterinarian knows that pets and fireworks are a combustible combination, and most are prepared to help patients and clients make it through Independence Day, New Year’s Eve, and other loud and lit-up celebrations.

But there’s another situation that puts what can be an equal amount of fear into pets’ hearts and minds: visiting the veterinary clinic. You probably think of it as a welcoming place where your only goal is to care for pets, but dogs, cats, and other animals don’t always see, smell, or hear it that way. While you may be whiz-bang at helping with patients’ fireworks fears, what have you done to address their fear, anxiety, and stress when visiting your hospital?

Giving pets the care they need in a pleasant, stress-free way (for everyone!) is more than just stocking up on treats and pheromones. Here are some quick and easy tips you can implement with little fuss or cost.

Prepping patients

You want dogs and cats to be excited about coming through your front door. That starts at home. Before a scheduled visit, ask clients to help pets remain calm by transporting them comfortably. Ways to do this include:

  • Placing the carrier on a level surface in the vehicle, such as the cargo area of an SUV or the floor behind the passenger seat. If the seat is the only spot for a carrier, they can use a rolled-up towel to help ensure it’s level, rather than slanted.
  • Play calming music or an audiobook, both of which have been found to help pets relax.
  • Cover the carrier to enhance a feeling of security. This is especially important with cats. Spraying the cover with Feliway or Adaptil increases the sense of safety. If pet owners come in without a covered carrier, give them a towel treated with Adaptil or Feliway that they can place over it.

On arrival

If you tend to have a busy waiting room, there are ways you can help to relieve the anxieties of pets who are uncomfortable in crowds:

  • Make the most of your parking lot and the area outside your front door. Offer clients the option of checking in by phone from the parking lot. They can wait in the car until the receptionist calls to let them know a room is ready so the pet can go right in.
  • Have a potty area away from the front door so you don’t have dogs lifting their legs near it and depositing chemical messages expressing their stress.
  • Set up an outdoor waiting area with a bench or other seating. You can even use lawn chairs that can be folded up and stored at night.
  • Separate cats and dogs in the lobby. That doesn’t mean calling in an architect. A visual barrier such as a tall screen from a home supply store or a lineup of tall plants in pots can help prevent pets from setting eyes on one another.

In the exam room

This is the area where pets may feel most fearful. Here are some tips to set pets at ease:

  • When cats don’t have to smell that a dog was just in the room, they’re more comfortable. If possible, have separate exam rooms for dogs and cats. If you can’t, pheromones can help pets feel more relaxed. Whether you use sprays or plug-ins, feline and canine pheromones don’t interfere with each other so there’s no need to swap them out between patients.
  • Give pets a few minutes to become accustomed to the room. Talk to the owner in a low voice before turning any attention to the dog or cat. While you’re chatting, toss a few treats in the pet’s direction without making eye contact.
  • Cover cold, slick exam tables with a warm towel or a non-skid mat.
  • Some pets are uncomfortable being on an exam table. If your joints allow it, examine them on the floor or while they’re sitting on a chair or bench next to their owner.
  • Between exams, clean the room and equipment such as stethoscopes with a product that won’t send the olfactory system reeling.

There’s a lot more to helping pets overcome their fears of veterinary visits, but these steps are a good start. With good communication and a willingness to meet animals on their level, you’ll find that everyone is having a better and more valuable visit: clients, staff, and most of all, pets.

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Ruth Garcia grew up in Austria and, after receiving an associate bachelor of art degree in hotel management from MODUL Vienna, Austria, traveled the world for a number of years working for some of the leading international luxury hotel brands. When her husband's work brought them to Denver in 2006, Ruth discovered her passion for building businesses and entrepreneurship. She is the founder of a consulting firm and the co-owner of a high-end barber shop, which currently employs more than 15 professionals. In 2015, Ruth earned her MBA from the University of Denver. Ruth's passion for animals combined with her track record of building successful businesses brought her to Fear Free. In her role as the chief operating officer, Ruth is responsible for the day-to-day operations of Fear Free, including sponsor relations, strategic alliances, sales, strategy, and CE course development. She manages a team of 10 out of the Denver-based Fear Free office.

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