It’s not unusual for dogs to be scared of the vets, but there are things you can do to help your dog grow in confidence and feel more at ease when they have to visit the vets.
Within my monthly membership, we have Q&A sessions and often bring in guest experts to share their wisdom with us! Vet nurse Cheryl Semple met with us to help us learn how to help our dogs feel more relaxed, happier and less afraid when they visit the vets.
Read on to uncover Cheryl’s expert tips so you can help your dog overcome their fears and feel confident at the vets.
Why are dogs scared of the vets?
Vets are full of different smells, other animals, new people, and new experiences. If your dog has never been to the vets or has had unpleasant experiences when visiting, this can lead to anxiety or even a fear of vets.
If your dog has had to visit the vets for a procedure, operation or even an examination that made them feel uncomfortable, they may develop a fear of the vets.
Dogs learn through association, so it stands to reason that unwelcome experiences at the vets can lead to a negative association…. Which can spiral if left unaddressed.
Luckily though, we can change your dog’s associations and make vet visits a less stressful and scary experience.
Socialisation visits to the vets
If your dog finds visits to the vets scary, worrying or anxiety making, then Cheryl recommends booking vet visits with a vet nurse to work on building your dog’s confidence in this strange environment!
Most owners don’t know that this is something they can book, however many vet practices (and their lovely nurses) are more than happy to accommodate.
Not only will helping your dog feel comfortable at the vets reduce their stress levels, but a calm dog is much easier for a vet to examine! If your dog is tense at the vets, this can make it very difficult for your vet to get an accurate read on any health issues that may be present.
It’s in everybody’s interests to help your dog to relax and feel calm – so let’s look at how socialisation visits at the vets can help.
What happens at a socialisation vet visit?
Our goal with socialisation visits at the vets is to build positive associations and happy experiences for your dog.
This will look different for different dogs. A dog who is very scared or anxious at the vets may need more socialisation visits and a slower progression. Whereas a puppy is more likely to take things in their stride – assuming they’ve not had any worrying experiences at the vets.
Cheryl says for very anxious dogs, they may start socialisation visits outside the practice. You and your dog might hang out with a vet nurse in the car park in order to first build confidence and positive associations with the nurse and being close to the practice.
Gradually you’d build up to bringing the dog inside the practice, choosing quieter times that allow your dog to explore at their own pace.
For dogs who have a lower level of anxiety, the vet nurse may spend time with them in a consulting room, practising getting on the scales and enjoying some yummy treats before going home.
Creating a predictable routine for your dog at the vets will help build confidence. Making time for fortnightly social visits if your dog feels worried or scared, will help them to feel more at ease.
7 top tips for reducing fear and stress at the vets
- Ask to see the same vet each time (if your practise has multiple vets)
- Ask for appointments at quieter times of day
- Ask for a longer appointment so the vet can take more time and go at your dog’s pace
- Ask to wait outside so you can avoid the stressful waiting room experience
- Ask for social visits to build your dog’s confidence and create positive experiences
- Reward your dog for calm with treats – this will encourage more of this behaviour!
- Try to stay calm yourself!
What else can you do to help your dog feel calm at the vets?
The vet’s waiting room can be a stressful place, particularly for a reactive or nervous dog. You may have rabbits, cats and other dogs in the waiting room – as well as worried humans awaiting a diagnosis for their beloved pet.
All of this can be a lot for your dog to cope with. Skip the stress and ask your vet if you can wait in the car or outside to prevent your dog’s stress levels rising unnecessarily.
Spend time at home getting your dog used to being handled and touched all over their body. The more you do to make the things that may happen at the vets less alien, the less new and potentially scary things your dog will have to cope with.
Remember, dogs learn by association – so the more positive associations you can build that transfer to vet visits, the happier your dog will be.
Who are vet socialisation visits good for?
- Rescue dogs
- Dogs who have had a traumatic experience at the vets
- Dogs who are anxious around other dogs/pets
- Dogs who are nervous in new environments
- Dogs who struggle with physical examinations or handling
How many socialisation vet visits do you need?
This will depend on your dog’s prior experience at the vets. Cheryl shares that puppies who have attended for regular appointments in their early life are generally more at ease and confident at the vets.
Puppies have generally been to the vets on a regular basis for weigh-ins and check ups which builds a positive experience and association.
If you have a reactive dog, who either struggles with people or other animals, then giving them time to get used to the vet and the practice can help. Arrange to visit at quieter times and ask to wait outside to reduce your dog’s stress levels.
If you have a rescue dog, particularly one from overseas, they may have never spent any time at the vets before. This experience can be totally alien to them, so regular social visits can gently get them used to the environment and the people so when they need vet care they feel more comfortable.
What do vet nurses do?
Vet nurses monitor and look after your dog when they’re at the vets without you. Leaving your dog at the vets is a difficult experience for both you and your dog – but getting to know your vet nurse will help you both!
While vet nurses don’t handle diagnosis or prescription of medications, they spend a lot of time caring for the pets that stay overnight at the vets.
Vet nurses often also manage more routine veterinary visits, such as:
- Weight checks/clinics
- Flea/worm medications
- Nail clipping
- Anal gland emptying
- Post op checks
- Laser therapy
- Social visits for vet training or anxious dogs
Don’t be afraid to ask!
So many of us just accept our dogs being scared of the vets as a part of life, but it doesn’t need to be this way. Before thinking about sedatives or muzzles to get your dog through vet visits, it’s worth putting some time into making the vets a less scary place.
Of course, if your dog is likely to bite then a muzzle is a necessary piece of training equipment, but it’s important to train your dog to feel comfortable in one… otherwise, you’re simply adding another layer of stress!
Most vet practices and vet nurses are very happy to accommodate social visits to build your dog’s confidence, so just ask! You, your dog, and the vet staff will be much happier and calmer if you take the time to address your dog’s fears.
If you’d like help with supporting your dog through socialisation training, then get in touch. I’m always happy to help.