Helping Your Pets Go To The Vet Happily!

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Going back into working in a vet hospital has been…

It’s coming up on 9 months since I started working back in the high intensity, high care environment of the veterinary hospital. Bentons Road Vets is easily the best managed, highest quality of care (and best to work at) veterinary hospital I have ever had the privilege of being a team member at. All the staff are highly trained, highly caring, highly skilled and all around amazing people.  I’m loving it! The team do everything they can to help pets go into the Vet happily

It was a huge change for me after 15 years of working for myself in solo home visit and holistic practice. It took me quite a few months to get ‘work fit’ again. I’m really loving it. Better facilities, diagnostic machines at my fingertips, and a great crew of experienced vets to talk about cases with. 

One thing that really shocked me was how stressed and afraid many of the animals who come into the vet are. Hyper excited, jumping all over the place- or freezing, refusing to walk into the consult room, or in some cases, being very willing to have a bit of a nibble on me. All these behaviors are arousal-driven

I’m in the middle of completing a fear-free certification – a course that is teaching me how to recognize the signs of Fear, Arousal, and Stress (FAS) in the animals who come to me for veterinary care. FAS can be shown in several ways, depending on the personality of the dog (or cat). 

How to recognize Fear, Arousal, and Stress in your pets

Signs of FAS to look out for are dilated pupils, exposed whites of the eyes, moving slowly, overly attention-seeking, Ears back and down, a furrowed brow, panting, may show some reluctance to interact with team members, escalating to immobility, escape behaviour, fidgeting, excessive panting, trembling, tightly closed mouth, tail tucked (or thrashing if a cat), active avoidance, and then escalating to aggression if team members touch the animal.

You’ll see flight (animals hiding under chairs, trying to run away from the vet, avoidant), or fight (animals showing aggression- lunging, barking, biting, scratching etc.), freeze (animals going very still and unresponsive, sometimes flopping to the floor), or fidget (animals going hyper-crazy-playful, jumping all over the owners or the vet, unresponsive to commands).

A pet with no or very low (green, go)  FAS will readily accept treats, toys, and/or attention . They’ll happily walk into the room with a tail wagging at about body height, and have a relaxed face. Vets will be able to interact with them or even collect blood without any distress.

A pet with moderate (yellow, caution) FAS will show moderate interest or disinterest in treats, toys, and/or attention. Fidgeting, difficulty settling.

A pet with severe (red, stop) FAS will show little to no interest in treats, toys, and/or attention, and a fight, freeze, severe fidget or flight response 

You might be thinking right now that your pets are more stressed at the vet hospital than you realised. I know doing this training has really opened my eyes to just how scary and stressful it is for many pets to go to the vet. 

Here’s what you can do to help your pets go to the vet happily!

  • If you have a puppy or kitten, there’s a lot you can do early on to prevent these kinds of issues. What you need to do is bank up LOTS of positive experiences in the context of the vet hospital. Take your puppy in regularly for stacks of treats and games. Do puppy school. Socialise them well, and support your pup in developing emotional resilience. Don;t always comfort your pup when they get frustrated or are distubed by something new. Just sit quietly beside them until they regulate themselves.
  • If you have an adult animal who doesn’t like going to the vet, this positive reinforcement approach can help a lot for them too. Lots of high value treats, their favourite toy. Regular consultation visits where the vet doesn’t have to do anything uncomfortable. It all helps over time.
  • Take the highest possible value treats (and lots of them) into the consult with you- and favourite toys. 
  • Learn how to calm and soothe your pets with Whole Energy Body Balance (I’ve lost count of the times clients have said ‘That’s amazing – I’ve never seen Fluffy so relaxed at the vet ever before! After I do bodywork in consult).
  • If you have a red FAS pet, then the absolute best thing you can do is talk to your vet about some pre-visit medication with gabapentin. I know, I’m a holistic vet, and this is a prescription medication, but it can turn vet visits from awful torture for a vet-anxious pet into a relaxed, calm and easy visit. This is especially so if your pet has to stay in for diagnostics and surgery
  • And there’s one more thing you can do. Work on your calmness. Relax as much as you can (practice at home), because your animals will take a lot of cues from you- if you get anxious, it will make their anxiety worse. 

If you have a vet-phobic pet, there’s a LOT to be done to help them have the best possible visit. And if your pets ever get to the point of Red FAS, that’s time to stop, reconsider, and rebook with a strong dose of Gabapentin on board. I’ve seen this help so many anxious animals to be ok with being examined or having blood collected. It’s a great support to help have a relaxed, calm visit. Sometimes, with care and desensitisation, they can outgrow the need for pre-visit medications. 

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