Going to the Vet? Make it less stressful and more successful!
Dogs don’t have a human voice. They place implicit trust in us to speak for them and care for them, which goes well beyond food and shelter. It extends into the intangible realm of setting up situations to go in their favor. A prime example of this is going to the vet. Here are six tips (which I’ve seen proven over my career as an integrative veterinarian and which follow my philosophy on caring for dogs ) to more enjoyable, stress-free, and successful vet visits for the dog you love.
6 Secrets to successful vet visits for your dog…and for you!
1. Be prepared with questions, concerns and observations.
Whether you’re taking your dog to the vet for a routine wellness exam or for a problem visit, take some time to gather your thoughts and write down (or record on your phone) your observations, concerns, and questions. Have notes handy when you are discussing your dog’s health with the veterinary staff and your dog’s doctor. Remember, you are your dog’s voice!
Also, listen closely when your vet speaks with you about home care instructions and explains your dog’s medications. This is your homework. Understanding your assignment is key to achieving success. When your veterinarian shares important information, don’t hesitate to repeat it back or ask for clarification. Though veterinarians try hard to explain things in plain English, sometimes we get caught up in the many five-syllable words that end in “itis” and speak a cheap knock-off of Latin. Should this happen, I assure you that we want you to tell us. Ideally, you should leave each vet visit with a clear picture of your dog’s health and an appreciation of your role in maintaining it.
2. Make time for the “pre-game show” before the vet visit.
Here’s what breaks my heart: when I look out the exam room window and see a dog hop out of the car in the parking lot, rush to have a bowel movement, and ramp up to Mach 10 before ever entering the building. Yes, I understand the concept of transitional/stress diarrhea. Yes, I understand that dogs come in all different energy levels. Yes, I understand that the very car ride and location can be anxiety-inducing. But when I see that scene unfold, which I have hundreds of times, I’m not thinking about any of those contingencies. I’m thinking that that poor dog went from lounging on the couch to leashed and loaded in the car in 30 seconds flat to go to the vet.
I’ve surveyed my clients and I know this is often true. Going to the vet means rushing home from work, grabbing the dog, and rushing to the vet. Rush, rush, rush. Is it any wonder the dog is keyed up?
If I could script the ideal game plan for the vet visit, I’d recommend 30 minutes of “pre-game show” planned into the schedule before the appointment that includes time for:
- A short walk.
- Your dog to time to relieve himself.
- A little cardio play.
An old adage says, “A tired dog is a good dog.” A dog who has worked his body and mind before arriving for the vet visit makes a better patient. This, in turn, makes going to the vet a better experience for everyone involved, especially the star of the show—your dog.
3. Don’t forget to breathe.
One of the best things about dogs is their sixth sense. They can get a full read on a situation without any of the clues we need as humans. If you get stressed going to the vet, I guarantee your dog will read your tension and behave accordingly.
Imagine how your dog feels in this scenario:
- You’ve got the leash in a death grip.
- You’re nervous about how your dog is going to interact with the other dogs in the waiting room.
- You’re waiting in the exam room and your dog is whining and you feel like whining, too!
- You hold your breath when the technician approaches with the rectal thermometer. Blood work?! Did someone mention blood? Guess what?! Your dog feels all that!
Instead try this scenario:
- Relax, and I dare say, try to have fun!
- Remain positive that your veterinarian and the staff will take care of your dog and work hard to ensure a smooth experience for you both.
- Trust the people. Trust their process.
- Trust your dog.
- BREATHE. Your dog will thank you for it!
Periodically, I actually have to stop examining a patient, so I can walk a client through breathing exercises. It really changes the whole energy in the room for the better. Don’t forget to breathe.
4. Distraction, distraction, distraction.
To take it a step further, I urge you to provide your dog moral support. The single most important technique I advocate for improving a pet’s experience at a vet visit is low-tech and free: distraction!
You’ll have to play this one by ear because sometimes veterinarians prefer that you not be physically involved with your dog during the exam. Certain situations call for vets and vet techs only. But if you are in physical contact with your dog, don’t turn into a statue while the temperature is taken, blood is drawn, or other intimidating medical procedures take place. When you do that, your dog is able to give his full attention to the unpleasantry, and object accordingly.Mary Poppins said, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Let me assure you, “A vigorous head rub helps the vet exam go down!”Click To Tweet
There’s even science behind this idea! When you accidentally smash your thumb with a hammer, what do you instinctively do? You rub it! This is because pain is multi synaptic. Translation: Pain takes many pathways to reach the brain. If you distract the body by sending information to the central nervous system on other roads during the discomfort, it creates more “traffic” which the pain sensations have to overcome to get to the brain. Vigorous head rubbing, belly scratching, or rump patting creates helpful “traffic.”
5. Wait “outside the box.”
Veterinary hospitals tend to be feast or famine. The appointment schedule is either dull and slow or triple booked with three emergencies on the way. If you happen to arrive during a “feast,” here’s a tip: use the parking lot as an extension of the waiting room.
Simply ask the receptionist if it’s okay for you to wait outside. No doubt, they will be grateful and respect your wisdom. Enjoy some bonding time with your dog outside. If the weather is bad or your dog has had enough of the parking lot, you can sit in your car and listen to classical music to pass the time, happily oblivious to the chaos inside.
If you choose to do the latter, let the receptionist know where you can be found or provide your cell number so the staff can deliver the veterinary version of curb-side service and usher you into an exam room when one becomes available.
6. Let sleeping dogs lie.
Don’t be afraid to bring your dog’s bed or blanket when you’re going to the vet. After I insert acupuncture needles, I generally need a dog to be still for 10-40 minutes. I always have a cushy blanket on the floor for the dog to curl up on, but I get better results—faster relaxation—when clients bring their dog’s bed from home.
Recently, a client told me that he’d taken it one step further. He’s been bringing his senior dog’s bed to his regular vet visits, too. Now, while waiting in the exam room, his dog doesn’t have to stand, sit, or lie on the hard floor—Leroy rests on his bed, patiently awaiting his exam. What a great example of proactive pet parenting!
Your dog is already conditioned to a specific state of mind associated with the bed—restfulness—and we get the benefit of instantly creating that before and during the vet visit using a prop. However, since it is by very definition a hospital, treating both well and sick dogs, I would recommend washing your dog’s bed, or at least the cover, immediately upon returning home, as a precaution.
Being thoughtful and proactive in the care you provide your dog directly impacts his or her quality of life, and by association, also your own! Through these six simple tips, I think you can land the triple win at your vet visits!
• A win for you, experiencing no rise in blood pressure during your vet visit.
• A win for the veterinary staff, who were able to focus on quality medicine.
• And most importantly, a win for your dog, who had a happy, productive experience going to the vet!
Finally, if your vet prescribes medicine, please check out a few of my favorite tips, tricks, and techniques for getting your dog to swallow a pill. You can do this! We can help!
Do you have tips for less stressful and more successful vet visits? I’d love to hear! Please comment below.
© Dr. Julie Buzby