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How to help your pet stay calm during vet visits

A visit to the vet can be a stressful experience for many pets, but it doesn’t have to be. These handy hints can help make a trip to the vet much more relaxing for your pet, your vet and you!

Benefits of a calm pet when receiving treatment

As a veterinarian, it is always lovely to examine and treat a calm animal. A calm pet has many advantages at the veterinary clinic, including:

  • Reduced stress: Stress (in animals and people) can cause an increase in heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. This can make it difficult to determine the normal state of your pet during the appointment.
  • Easier examination: A calm pet is so much easier for the veterinarian to examine, which assists when making a diagnosis or giving treatments.
  • Clear communication: A calm pet makes it easier for the vet to listen and communicate clearly with the owner throughout the appointment.
  • Safety: A calm pet is less likely to struggle and possibly injure themselves or others.
  • Positive vibes: A relaxed pet is more likely to have good memories associated with their visit, and be happy to return, making future appointments stress-free.

Common signs of anxiety in your pet

Anxious pets may cower, hide or tremble when you attempt to take them to the vet clinic, making the visit stressful for everyone. Some animals may even lash out or attempt to bite you or the vet. Knowing more about the different behaviours of your pet can help you identify stressful situations early-on so you can take preventative action.

Signs of anxiety in pets can include:

  • Unusual increase in vocalising
  • Pacing and restlessness
  • Trembling and shaking
  • Hiding and avoiding
  • Confrontational or repelling behaviour, such as growling and biting
  • Panting and drooling
  • Any other changed behaviour (e.g. urinating or toileting in the house)

If you notice any of these signs in your pet, it is important to speak with your vet to help identify the underlying causes of the anxiety. For example, is your pet anxious when you attempt a car journey? Do they become frightened when they are put in a carry cage? Knowing more of your pet’s triggers will help your veterinarian recommend the best approach to help your pet cope with vet visits.

Tips for managing your pet’s anxiety during vet visits

Start at home

As soon as you adopt your pet, get them used to regularly being handled. This could include gently touching and lifting their paws and stroking their face and body, speaking reassuringly all the time, and finish with a treat to reinforce this as a positive experience. This will help them become more familiar with being touched, and also helps you identify any unusual lumps and bumps or health conditions early.

Equipment needed prior to a vet appointment

For cat owners: Invest in a sturdy plastic and metal cat carrier which can be opened at the front and the top half of which can be removed during examination at the veterinary clinic (leaving the cat safely in the bottom half of the carrier with their bedding where they feel safer). Carriers should have enough space so the cat can lie down comfortably in a natural position, stand and sit, turn around normally while standing and stretch with clearance. Ensuring your cat is comfortable and safe in their carrier is a priority, and using reward-based training to get them used to entering and being in the carrier will be invaluable.

For dog owners: Ensure you have a suitable collar and lead, and consider if a harness is more suitable for your dog. A treat dispenser like a ‘licky mat’ may help your dog relax whilst at the vet. Take your dog for a short walk beforehand so they can go to the toilet.

Check with your vet if your pet needs to be fasted for their appointment, and remember any necessary paperwork such as vaccination books. A familiar blanket will also help your pet feel more at home.

Make friends with your vet

Taking your pet to the vet clinic for both regular health check-ups and vaccinations is essential, but did you know that going to your vet for non-medical reasons can also a great idea? These ‘happy visits’ can involve just a quick hello to reception staff or a pet weight check, giving your pet a treat and then leaving. Your pet will soon learn that vet visits don’t have to be scary, and can even be fun!

Calming techniques

Consider using pheromone sprays in the carry cage and car before going to the vet. The smell can be very strong at first, so spray at least 15 minutes prior to travelling to give the pheromones time to dissipate before your pet is placed in the carrier. Pheromones as sprays or plug-in diffusers can also be helpful at home, and are available from your vet. Calming music can also be of assistance, and sometimes natural supplements can help.

Try to stay calm yourself, as pets become attuned to their owner’s emotions. Take plenty of appropriate treats to reward your pet for staying calm at the vet.

Cats may appreciate a familiar blanket in their cage and a towel draped over the top so they feel safe. Some vet clinics are now offering separate ‘dog only’ and ‘cat only’ waiting areas, and there are even some clinics that only treat cats.

If you have any concerns about your pet’s health and behaviour, please speak to your vet. Some pets require medication to help them relax enough to visit the vet. In these cases, your vet will be able to advise on the best option.

If your pet is highly stressed when at the vet, another alternative is to try a house call vet service.

A stress-free visit to the vet

Providing your pet with regular vet care is a vital part of being a responsible owner. By following the above steps, you can help your furry, four-legged friend feel less stressed when it’s time for their next vet visit.

When it comes to managing the costs of emergency vet care for accidental injury or illness, Pet Insurance could help. If you’re with RSPCA Pet Insurance, a portion of first-year premiums go towards supporting the valuable work of the RSPCA.

Dr Catherine Tiplady bio image

Dr Catherine Tiplady

Dr Catherine Tiplady studied veterinary science at the University of Queensland. After graduation, Dr Catherine worked in veterinary practice whilst undertaking postgraduate research in Animal Welfare, gaining additional degrees in Bachelor of Applied Science (Animal Studies) (Hons 1) and a PhD. Dr Catherine has published widely in peer reviewed scientific journals and has also authored a book, ‘Animal Abuse: Helping Animals and People’. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Catherine also has her own business performing gentle in-home pet euthanasia and provides veterinary care and desexing services for animal welfare charities. Dr Catherine brings her passion for animal welfare, love of writing and scientific training together to contribute quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance’s Pet Care blog.