Positive Vet Vibes Friday 11 September 2015 @ 07:50

Nadia Crighton from Pet Insurance Australia investigates how pet owners can help their animals get positive vet vibes.

It’s no secret in the pet world…some of our beloved companions simply hate going to the vet. It can evoke an emotional response that can leave some dogs and cats suffocated with pure fear.

Dog at the Vet

This is no surprise when you consider that a pet only visits the friendly veterinarian during times of stress or sickness. Sometimes your animal is also left at the clinic while tests are run. This can cause anxiety and stress and sadly, like a child being taken to the doctor for their vaccinations, your pet will remember this pain and fear. Meaning; once those sliding doors at the clinic are seen or the pet cage appears, your animal may start exhibiting signs of anxiety.

So what are some of the symptoms that your furry friend is possibly suffering from a case of ‘vet phobia’?

  • Shaking
  • Hair loss (the temporary kind that leaves you looking like ‘that’ pet owner who never grooms their pet…don’t worry this is completely normal).
  • Excessive panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Wining / meowing / howling / crying
  • Refusal to go into the pet carrier or walk through the reception area at the veterinary clinic (yes we’ve all seen the splayed legged hounds, with their breaks firmly on, being dragged across the slippery floors).
  • In some cases, aggression towards the vet or vet nurses.

Let’s think of this in dog and cat terms. Firstly; your pet probably only ever visits the vet twice a year, plus every time they go they are greeted with many strange smells and uncomfortable sounds. None of which are comforting and familiar.

Dog at the Vet

For many dogs and cats their first experience with the local veterinarian was a big needle or worst still; to be put on the operating table to be de-sexed. This is a pretty scary experience for your pet and most probably the first time they were away from their beloved family. So in all fairness, if this were your first memory of the clinic or cat cage, it would probably have your running for the hills (and rightly so).

If you have established that your feline friend or hairy hound is terrified of the vet, how can you help reduce this fear and why is it that some pets simply take an adventure to the vet in their stride, while others do not?

For dogs it is paramount that they have received some form of training to help you gain control of this problem. This can help immensely with any problems such as anxiety, as they will look to you for security. Training is the best way to make your dog feel 100% confident in your abilities to help stop ‘scary’ scenarios. It is also great as a distraction. It is important to remember to keep your own emotions under control. Dogs, in particular, will pick up on your fear and this will only agitate the situation. Pet insurance can help with the costs of training, with many contributing to the costs through registered training centres. For more information check out www.petinsuranceaustralia.com.au

The dogs you see relaxed, or under-control at the clinic are those that are trained. They have full confidence that everything is going to be ok because their cool-as-a-cucumber leader (AKA human) is in control of the situation and will not let anything bad happen to them. They have also had many ‘good’ visits to the clinic with loads of positive attention from the nurses and staff.

What to do while at the clinic?

  • Take some treats with you the ones you know your dog / cat loves (a treat-bag full of different goodies like ham, cheese, doggy / cat biscuits etc). Some dogs don’t like the treats at the vet. So help your vet out by taking something you know will work.
  • Take your dog for trips to the clinic without needing to see the vet. So if you purchase your dog food, or flea treatments take your dog with you. Walk in, pay and leave. Ask the staff to make a big fuss of your dog. Remember you are trying to replace the ‘old’ fear with a new enjoyment.
  • Confident pats for dogs (big pats on the chest and rib area). Comforting words for cats.
  • Training. Use that treat bag. Ask your dog to sit, stand, stay. Distract your dog’s attention while you are waiting.
  • For cats pop a familiar smelling item in the cage (like your pillow case) and play with them through the cat cage (think ribbons).
  • If you cat is particularly miserable, consider covering the cat cage with a sheet or towel. If they start howling, play and treat.

What to do at home? 

  • PuppyGet your pet used to being examined. Touch their paws, claws, and teeth. Lift their lips, look inside their ears. Desensitize your pet to what the vet might do.
  • Allow them to play inside their crate / cat box.
  • For puppies and kittens – take them to the vet for a basic check up, nail clipping, puppy-preschool. Do all of this before taking them to be neutered. Allow your pup / kitten to build a relationship with your veterinarian before their first scary situation. Prevention is better than a cure.

You would be shocked how common this problem is and, how much your local clinic will want to help you solve the issue. Veterinarians and vet nurses live and breathe animals. Having your pet 100% comfortable in their presence is a top priority (just ask).


Nadia Crighton is a well-known and accomplished Australian Journalist and blog writer for Pet Insurance Australia. As a busy mum of four humans, two dogs, 50 sheep, three cats, a handful of chickens and a goat named Billy, she simply adores pets of all shapes and sizes.