Hands up if you love going to the doctor!!

Nobody?
Oh, OK. Cool. Cool.

We don’t particularly love taking ourselves to see our own doctors, so is it any surprise when our pets aren’t super jazzed about the idea, either? I see at least one or two pets every day–cats and dogs alike–who are somewhere on the spectrum from kinda nervous to absolutely flippin’ terrified.

It’s understandable. Their daily routine is out of whack, they’re in a strange place with weird smells and sounds, and they can’t understand the “it’s for your own good” talk, no matter how many times we give it.

So, what’s the solution? Since telepathy apparently isn’t on the table, we have to figure a way to help these poor creatures out.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to make vet visits less stressful–for everyone:

1. Training
Oh, man. If we could start at the beginning with a blank slate for all these pets that would be unbelievably amazing. It’s absolutely the best way to lay the groundwork for low-anxiety vet visits. Conditioning puppies and kittens to expect a pleasant time at their appointment makes for a lifetime of easier trips to the office and better veterinary care. Older pets can benefit from “happy pet” visits as well–turns out you CAN teach an old dog new tricks!

If your dog gets anxious or fearful when going to the veterinarian, ask the doctor if you can bring your pet in for some snuggles and cookies. I like to use really high-value treats like peanut butter, squeeze cheese, and soft jerky treats. It’s great when the dog gets no pokes or prodding–just great food and some of the staff fawning over him–then gets to go home!

Cats don’t usually enjoy these types of visits quite as much as their canine counterparts, because, well . . . they’re cats. What you can do as a cat owner is train your kitty to like her carrier by leaving it out often and feeding treats or regular meals inside. You can also train your cat to “place” by providing positive reinforcement in the form of a treat, chin scratch or a favorite toy after she has gone to your chosen spot when you ask her to. Once the kitty has that behavior down, you can do things at home like trim her nails or brush her teeth. And it often translates to the vet office–you might find that you can get your cat to “place” on the scale or exam table!

2. Synthetic pheromones
Pheromones are chemical signals that trigger social responses by members of the same species. These signals can influence our pets’ behaviors, activities and emotions. There are commercially available synthetic pheromones that can help pets in stressful situations. Feliway mimics “happy cat messages” and can help your kitty feel safer in a new situation. Similarly, Adaptil sends comforting, “Mother dog” type messages to stressed out puppies and dogs. These products can be very effective in diminishing your pet’s anxiety when used with training!

3. Medications
I like to call this one “better living through chemistry.” Anti-anxiety medications can be absolute game-changers for all kinds of pets, from the ones that just aren’t sure about the whole vet visit thing to ones that are literally shaking when they walk in the door. And even the ones who want to bite our faces off . . .

Melatonin is an over-the-counter natural relaxation remedy that can be helpful for pets with mild anxiety. Trazodone is a prescription anti-anxiety medication that can work great by itself for some dogs and cats. I also like to add on prescription gabapentin for the pets that are really on edge.

There are certainly other effective medications that can be absolute godsends for stressed-out dogs and cats. Sometimes it takes a few tries to see what works best for individual patients, but it’s worth it when we find the right combination. These medications are very safe and far preferable to allowing a pet to experience high levels of stress.

Our pets often don’t like going to the doctor any more than we do. But we have lots of ways to make them more comfortable! Now if I could just get my doctor to offer me pizza and beer the next time I go in for an appointment . . .