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How To Help Your Dog Stay Calm At The Vet’s Office

How To Help Your Dog Stay Calm At The Vet's Office

Does your dog get nervous at the vet’s office? 

It doesn’t have to be that way. You can teach your dog to feel comfortable around your vet and even look forward to visits. 

Learn how to help your dog stay calm at the vet’s office, behave calmly in the waiting room, and find the best Fear-Free vets who can minimize stress during procedures. 

Why Dogs Hate The Vet

Naturally, we’d expect our dogs to be nervous when visiting their vet after associating them with painful shots and invasive tests. 

But some dogs become anxious when they’re in the waiting room of a vet they’re visiting for the first time. Why is that? 

As it turns out, dogs really can smell fear.

When a dog gets scared, they may express their anal glands. Other dogs can pick up on that scent and recognize the stress-related odour. Dogs also release odours from apocrine glands all over their body that may cause other dogs to pick up on their stress. 

Also, dogs can pick up on the smell of sweat that contains stress hormones, so they may notice if you’re feeling anxious about taking them to the vet, or if other people in the waiting room are feeling stressed. 

Of course, dogs may become fearful at the vet if they are not comfortable being handled by strangers, if they’re poked and prodded for tests, and when they get vaccines. 

Though you can’t do much to prevent your dog from smelling fear, or from experiencing potentially stressful procedures, there are ways we can minimize stress and help dogs have an overall positive time at the vet’s office. 

Find The Right Vet

Shopping around for a vet can be tough enough as it is. You need to find a practice in a convenient location, with the services your dog needs, with staff who make you feel comfortable. But it’s also worth considering whether or not the practice is fear-free certified. 

Fear Free programs help vets and other pet professionals conduct services in ways that are less stressful to pets. Some practices are Fear Free certified, while others are not, but may have staff who have gone through the professional program to help your dog stay calm at the vet’s office.

In Toronto, Downtown Toronto Animal Hospital is one of the few veterinary practices that holds a Fear Free certification. 

Wellesley Animal Hospital is not Fear Free certified, but many members of their staff have been certified individually. 

You can find certified practices in the Fear Free directory. If your vet’s office is not Fear Free certified, you can still ask about what measures they take to minimize stress in their patients. 

Teach Your Dog To Love Their Vet

You can prepare for vet visits by taking your dog on fun car rides. Short rides to a nearby park, or even to a drive-thru, can be a good way to get your dog excited about going in the car. 

Ask your vet if you can bring your dog for “friendly visits”.

A friendly visit is when you stop by for a few minutes to let the staff pet your dog and offer them treats. That way your dog will look forward to coming in when they have an appointment. 

While you’re waiting to be seen for your appointment, keep your dog in a carrier or on a short lead. If they’ll take treats, you can feed small bite periodically to keep your dog’s focus on you, not on your surroundings. Your dog doesn’t need to do anything to earn their treats while they’re at the vet. You’ll be using food to build a positive association, rather than reward a behaviour. 

Your dog should be muzzle-trained, regardless of whether they normally have to wear a muzzle at the vet. Muzzling is often necessary for preventative measures during bloodwork, nail clipping, and vaccines, and it’ll be much less traumatic if your dog gets to wear a muzzle they’re familiar with, rather than the cloth muzzle at your vet’s. 

How To Help Your Dog Stay Calm At The Vet’s Office

Some vets will let you bypass the waiting room and allow you to wait in your car instead. Many vets will allow this if you call from your cell phone to let them know you’ve arrived, and they’ll call you back when the exam room becomes available. 

If that’s not an option, or if you’d prefer to stay in the waiting room, you can use a scented bandana to help prevent your dog from getting worked up over fear-based scents. You can use Adaptil, a synthetic version of the calming pheromone that dogs release after having a litter of puppies. You can also try a lavender-based calming spray. 

Be sure to bring your own high value treats, as the dry biscuits that many vets offer aren’t tasty enough to get your dog’s attention while they’re feeling stressed. 

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