From Shanda W. Vance – Special to the Navarro County Gazette

The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that your pet receive preventative health care (vaccines, parasite control, etc.) as well as care for any illness or injuries that arise. Your vet appointment actually starts before you leave home, so here are a few tips to make it less stressful for you and your pet.

When setting up appointments, discuss your expectations with the front desk. If you are not completely comfortable with their responses to your questions and instructions for your pet’s needs, request an appointment for a face-to-face meeting with the vet to discuss your concerns.  You may want to inquire if there will be a charge for this visit prior to scheduling. If your pet is normally anxious or fearful at the vet clinic, ask your vet team for advice on making the visit a less traumatizing event for your pet.

Start by training your cat or small dog for their carrier or crate. Don’t hide the carrier between visits. Your pet may identify it as something scary. Let your pet play around it and explore. If you need to bring more than one pet to the vet, don’t put them together as this may cause additional stress and tension. Animals don’t always understand stress, so they may begin to fight. Give each pet their own carrier and place it securely behind the front seat so that it won’t slide around during the trip.

Try to carry the crate close to your chest rather than by the handle in order to reduce motion. Never try to force an animal into a carrier. To make it more appealing, try a pheromone infused blanket or an item of your clothing. Pheromone sprays such as Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats are available at most pet stores. Scared animals like to be surrounded by things that make them feel safe. Having familiar scents while at the vet will make your pet more comfortable and reduce their stress.

Take time to get your pet used to car rides as well to reduce significant stress. Most owners typically take their pets in the car only for vet visits or grooming appointments. Pets learn to associate car rides with only the vet clinic if that’s the only time they go for one. Take them for a ride in the car when you’re not going to scary places. Make the car a fun experience by taking your pet out for an adventure: a walk, a visit to the park or to a friend or relative’s house.

Do “meet and greet” visits before the actual vet visit. Talk to the clinic staff and ask if you can come by for a few minutes so that your pet can meet the vet team. Just hang out in the waiting room with your pet and step on the scale. Doing so will help your pet to get more comfortable in these spaces.  Bring high value treats such as meat or cheese and reward your pet for good behavior. If your pet is uncomfortable at the vet, it might seem logical to only go when it is absolutely necessary, but that can mean your pet is more likely to be stressed. When it is time for the exam or procedure, the environment will seem less frightening. Take your pet along with you when picking up medications or supplies. 

If your pet only visits the clinic when they are sick, they may assume that trips to the vet only result in pain and discomfort. This can develop into fear, aggression, or your pet unwilling to be examined. Pop into the vet clinic for a “happy visit” as often as possible to shower your pet with treats and praise. Avoid luring your pet into the clinic happily only to take them by surprise with something unpleasant. If they feel “tricked”, they will be even more suspicious next time. Proceed at your pet’s pace.

If your pet is nervous in the waiting room of your vet clinic, tell reception you’ll wait outside or in the car. Inside the vet clinic can be a chaotic place with other potentially anxious animals. Checking in (without your pet) and waiting in your car or outside gives your pet the opportunity to move around and sniff. Sniffing outside can be very relaxing for your dog. Ask them to come get your or call you on your cell phone,  Don’t make your pet sit inside and further intensify their fear. Many vet clinics used this practice during COVID-19.

If you do decide to remain in the waiting room, keep your distance. FInd as much space as possible away from the other patients. Do not approach other animals waiting for a visit.  If your pet is not crated, keep it  close to you and do not let it harass others. Dogs should be on a short leash (not a retractable).  You never know what other pets are dealing with. They can be very stressed and even bite your pet.  You also don’t know if the other animals have something contagious that could infect your pet.

In many vet clinics, cats are weighed in the exam room, while dogs are weighed on scales in the waiting room. If your pet has a scary experience being forced onto the scale, it can set the tone for the rest of their vet visits. Bring a yoga mat or bath mat with a non-slip bottom and place it on the scale. Bring high-value treats such as meat or cheese. Place a treat trail from the door all the way onto the scale. Walk with your dog as they follow the treat trail. Once they have all four paws on the scale, put a pile of treats right in front of them.  The dog does not need to sit.  He or she just needs to be still until the weight reading is obtained.

Training can help build a pet’s confidence in many different ways using positive reinforcement (rewarding a pet for doing the right behavior). Cooperative care (handling) practice can make the vet visit less uncomfortable for your pet as they learn what to expect. Begin training at home by touching your pet’s body, head, mouth, tail, chest, etc. and grooming him or her. Gently pet the cat all over, touch their paws, look in their ears, check their teeth and touch their tail. Keep sessions short (about 5 or 10 minutes) and go at their pace. Pets will be handled a lot over their lifetime, so teach them that touch is not scary. For cats, towel wrap techniques can help reduce stress and minimize restraining. Remember to reward with high-value treats and lots of praise.

Consider using a muzzle as a precaution to keep everyone safe. If your pet (yes, muzzles for cats are available) is comfortable wearing a muzzle, safety risks are reduced. Teach your pet to wear a muzzle at home since the vet staff is more likely to muzzle a fearful dog. So save your pet the stress of having their first experience with a muzzle be a negative one.

If your pet is not having a procedure, ask the vet team if you can feed your pet their favorite treats during the exam. Use real food such as meat or cheese. Cooked chicken is an inexpensive option for pups with sensitive stomachs.  Some cats are food motivated and may respond to treats at the vet office.  Others may prefer toys to distract them. If the pet isn’t coping, ask the vet to stop and see what other approach you can take to get the job done. Advocate for your pet; they depend on you.

If your pet is stressed, COMFORT THEM. It is impossible to reinforce fear and you will probably make them feel more comfortable and safe. You can’t make a fearful visit worse by being kind, compassionate or patient. Give them slow pats or some massage. Remember to reward all positive behaviors with tasty treats. In fact, feeding treats can help build a positive association with the vet clinic. Do not punish or scold your pet for unwanted behavior. Numerous studies have found dogs trained with punishment are more likely to show aggression in the clinic.

Many of these strategies can also work very well for other companion animals. Rabbits, ferrets, rodents and birds should be kept separate from other pets and remain in their carriers. The top of some carriers can be opened to allow vet access to check the animal without dragging the scared pet out of his or her safe space.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes, we do our best to prepare our pets for vet visits and they still struggle. Contact a qualified force-free trainer to learn more about cooperative care training. Lots of pets have extreme fear of the vet clinic and some of these strategies may not be enough.  Chat with your vet about some short-term medications that might help reduce the stress and fear during the visit.

About Shanda:

  • Graduated Fairfield High School 1981
  • Graduated Navarro College with A.S. Psychology 1983
  • Graduated Texas A&M University with B.S. Psychology 1985
  • Graduated Breyer State University with M.S. Animal Psychology 2008
  • Certified dog and cat trainer since 2006
  • Taught dog training classes Waxahachie Lighthouse for Learning since 2006
  • Trained 3 Navarro College bulldog mascots
  • Board member, Humane Society of Navarro College, serving as Secretary
  • Resident of Navarro County 38 years
  • Married to Tom Vance 38 years
  • Dog “mom” to 19 rescued dogs

Please be sure to support those that support us here at the NCG and check out our advertisers:
Warehouse Living Arts Center | Gallery Wah Wah | Vivaldi Visions

A big THANK YOU to our supporters:
The Hull Creative Arts Foundation and the Lampier Family.
If you too would like to help financially support the Navarro County Gazette please email us at

Translate »
%d bloggers like this: