stress free veterinary visits start at home

by Sara Barnhart, DVM

Veterinary visits can cause anxiety for both cats and dogs. Often the hospital is unfamiliar and there are strange sights, sound, and sometimes uncomfortable experiences. The stress of a veterinary visit can often start at home, before even arriving at the hospital; this means that ensuring stress free veterinary visits also starts at home!

Fortunately, there are ways to help alleviate these stressors and make the travel experience more comfortable for your furry loved one.

Stress free veterinary visits for cats

Cats are often the most challenging to get to the veterinary hospital in a stress-free manner. They are creatures that relish a quiet, familiar environment and simply being taken away from home can be very unpleasant.

Planning for your cat’s veterinary visit should start well in advance of actually leaving the house!

a good cat carrier is important

A cat carrier with a top that can be opened is important when visiting the vet, though this one may be a little extreme!

A sturdy, well sized carrier should be selected prior to the visit. Bringing a cat to the vet with no carrier can be very stressful for your cat and dangerous for them and other animals if they get loose outside or within the hospital. The carrier should be big enough for your cat and have a lid that can be easily removed. Removing a cat from a carrier without a removable lid can be traumatic for cats, resulting in a difficult veterinary experience.

Several days prior to the visit, bring the carrier out and put a cozy blanket or towel in the bottom. Allow your cat to explore the carrier and become familiar with it. Treats or a calming pheromone spray such as Feliway may attract your cat to the carrier.

On the day of the visit, spray the inside of the carrier with Feliway 15 minutes before you cat needs to go in. Once the cat is in the carrier, carry it by the bottom and secure the carrier in the car. Ideally the carrier should be seat belted in to reduce motion during travel. Some cats prefer a towel draped over the carrier and others like to see out. Play soothing classical music in the car and speak in quiet voices during the ride.

When you have arrived at the vet, once again carry the carrier by the bottom and try to find a place in the waiting room that is as quiet as possible. Cats prefer to be on high surfaces so placing the carrier on a bench, chair, or table is ideal. Once you are in the exam room, feel free to open the carrier door and allow your cat to explore the room.

Stress free veterinary visits for dogs

Most dogs have experience riding in cars and traveling, but it can still be a stressful experience. If your dog feels generally anxious in the car, work on creating a positive association with travel. As often as you can, sit in the parked car with your dog and offer treats if he is nervous. A calming spray such as Adaptil can be used in the car ahead of time.

Get your dog used to riding in the car before it’s time for the vet visit. Letting her drive might not be the best idea, however.

Your dog should be secured in the car via a pet seat belt or appropriately sized crate. Positioning your dog facing forward and with the window cracked may be preferred. Soothing classical music and calm voices are helpful for dogs as well as cats.

When you and your dog arrive at the veterinary hospital, be sure to have him on a non-retractable leash and try to find the quietest spot in the waiting room. Bring your dog hungry and start giving him treats the minute you walk into the building and continue treats throughout the veterinary visit (if medically appropriate).

Extreme cases

If your cat or dog becomes extremely anxious at the veterinary hospital regardless of trying the above tactics, speak with your veterinarian about prescribing a medication to reduce anxiety that can be given a couple of hours prior to the visit. This can help to make stress free veterinary visits for both you and your pet!

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Ann Arbor Animal Hospital is a locally-owned animal hospital operating for over 90 years in Ann Arbor, MI.