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Reducing Your Dog's Fear of the Veterinarian

Posted March 05, 2015 in Dog Behavior

Dog at the veterinarian

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is www.DrPhilZeltzman.com. He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (www.amazon.com).

AJ Debiasse, a technician in Stroudsburg, PA, contributed to this article.

A new concept has emerged in veterinary medicine over the past few years: Fear Free™ veterinary visits. Introduced by Dr. Marty Becker, “America’s Veterinarian,” this concept applies to veterinary hospitals, but you can use some of the concepts to reduce fear in your dog yourself.

Let's face it: nobody truly loves going to go to the doctor. Our dogs are no exception. The trip to your veterinarian is often stressful, for both you and your dog. Stress can cause severe health problems, mask signs of pain or sensitivity, skew diagnostic tests, weaken the immune system and cause diarrhea. Luckily, there are now simple things you can do to make your dog’s visits to the veterinarian less stressful.

Reducing stress before the veterinary visit
Stress starts at home. Dogs who run away when they see the harness or the carrier are actually scared. Make sure your dog gets used to the harness or the carrier prior to visiting your veterinarian. The carrier can be left out and used to play, sleep or eat on a regular basis. Help your dog get used to the collar or the harness and the leash around the house or in the yard.

Veterinary visits should not be the only time your dog rides in the car. You can take him for short rides around the block at first, then increase the distance gradually. This way, your dog will not be fearful of the car. Any anxiety or motion sickness can be addressed with drugs. If needed, your veterinarian can prescribe sedatives (many are natural products), pheromones, anti-nausea medications, compression garments and even special music.

These fear-busting tools can be used alone or together (in what we call a multimodal approach) so that nobody fears a trip to the veterinarian. Dr. Marty Becker calls it, “taking the pet out of petrifiedSM.”

Reducing stress at the veterinarian's office
"Just because" visits to your veterinary clinic can not only reduce stress, but they can help your dog look forward to visiting the veterinarian! Drive to the clinic and allow your dog (after asking for permission) to explore the hospital, meet friendly faces, get some treats and leave. There should be no poking, no nail trimming and no vaccination. Just fun and treats!

During checkups and procedures not requiring sedation or anesthesia, bring your dog hungry: this can work wonders. Bring your dog’s meal or favorite treats along. They can be used as a distraction during the exam, vaccines, blood draws etc. Food or treats should be given until the visit is over. Then a big hug is in order!

Your own demeanor plays a huge role in your dog's comfort. Stress is contagious. Your dog trusts you and senses your emotions, so if you're on edge, your dog will be as well. Do your best not to wear your emotions on your sleeve. Your dog will take cues from you and be on high alert. For example, don’t baby-talk to your dog in the home, in the car or while waiting at the veterinarians’.

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at www.DrPhilZeltzman.com, and follow him at www.facebook.com/DrZeltzman.