By Dr. Ryan Southard & Heather Wilkerson

We’ve all been there. It’s time to go to the vet, and you are absolutely dreading it. Your dog seems to have the magical ability to sense what’s going on, and starts crying and refusing to get up and walk. Then, when you somehow do get him out the door, good luck getting him into the car! Your dog suddenly becomes dead weight. What a disaster! Not only is it difficult for you as the owner, but anxiety and stress that start at home will most likely escalate during the car ride and the vet visit. 

As Fear Free Clinics, Family Pet Veterinary Centers are here to support you and your pet during your visits. Understanding that the veterinary visit begins before you even step in the door is a great step to creating a truly stress free visit. Today, let’s explore a few simple things that you can do at home to reduce the fear and anxiety associated with vet visits. 

Easing Your Dog's Stress and Anxiety Before Vet Visits

Visiting the veterinarian can be a source of significant stress and anxiety for many dogs, with studies showing that up to 78% of dogs exhibit signs of fear and anxiety during vet visits. This anxiety often leads to increased sedation needs, making the visit more challenging for both the pet and the veterinarian. Stressed dogs are also more prone to accidents, such as urinating or defecating out of fear. 

By taking steps to help dogs ease into their appointments, pet owners can greatly improve their pets' overall veterinary experience. This not only enhances the pet's well-being but also provides a smoother and more efficient visit for both the pet and the owner.

Understanding Anxiety and Stress in Different Dogs

One of the first things you’ll need to know is what stress and anxiety look like in your dog.

Recognizing stress and anxiety signals in your dog:

  • Cowering: Dogs may shrink back or lower their body posture when they are stressed or anxious.
  • Heavy Panting: Unlike panting from physical exertion, stress-related panting occurs even when the dog is at rest.
  • Yawning: Frequent yawning can be a subtle sign of stress.
  • Licking Lips: Dogs often lick their lips excessively when they feel uneasy or anxious.

Each dog may exhibit stress and anxiety differently. For some, stress may manifest through more subtle signs like a slight change in behavior, while others might show more pronounced symptoms. It's important to observe your dog's behavior closely to identify these stress signals.

3 Areas to Improve for Dog Stress Relief Before an Exam

Carrier and Crate Training 

If your dog will be transported in a crate or carrier, it is vital that they get used to it before they’re ever transported to the vet in it. Make sure it is an appropriate size for your pup and that it is entirely enclosed. Start by making the carrier a positive space at home; leave it open in a common area with a cozy blanket and some of your dog's favorite toys or treats inside. This will help them associate the carrier with positive experiences rather than just trips to the vet. Do not force the dog to go inside, but instead, encourage them to explore it on their own!

For crate training, it also helps to give them special treats that they only get when they go inside the crate. At first, you can start by giving them a treat every time they go in there. Then, transition to every other time. After that, you can go to every few times they go into the crate. This will create a positive association for them. 

Three dogs walking on leashes.

Leash Training 

While uncommon, some dogs do become anxious when seeing a leash, especially if they are a newly adopted rescue dog. To help them overcome this fear, put the leash on them without taking them anywhere, then give them a treat. When it comes to leash walking, practice leash training in a calm and familiar environment. Take short, enjoyable walks, rewarding your dog for good behavior to build positive associations. This can make the process of leashing up and heading to the vet much less stressful.

Vehicle Training

For pups who aren’t fans of car rides, it’s important to gradually work up to a lengthy exploration, just like leash training. Start by taking them on short, fun trips to places they enjoy, like a nearby park or a friend’s house. Gradually increase the length of the rides to help your dog get used to being in the car. You can also use calming products such as anxiety wraps, pheromone sprays, or natural supplements to help ease their anxiety.
Secure your pup in the car using a pet seatbelt, carrier, or car seat designed for dogs. Travel safety is important to prevent injuries in case of sudden stops or accidents and to keep your dog calm and secure. Also, like humans, dogs don’t like to be too hot or too cold. Warming up or cooling down your car will help them feel more comfortable during their ride. 

The Visit to the Veterinarian

Once you've conquered your dog's fear and anxiety at home and in the car, the next step is to aim for a stress-free experience at the veterinary clinic. A highly effective way to achieve this is through what we like to call "happy visits." These are visits where you bring your dog to the clinic without any exams or vaccinations being done. During these visits, ask your veterinarian and the staff to shower your dog with praise and treats. By doing this a few times, your dog will start to associate the vet clinic with positive experiences, making it a place where they receive treats and affection rather than just medical procedures.

Happy visits can significantly reduce your dog's anxiety and stress during actual appointments, leading to a smoother, more pleasant experience for both you and your pet. This proactive approach not only helps in creating a positive association with the veterinary clinic but also promotes better overall health and well-being for your dog by making future visits less stressful.

Fear Free Veterinary Care

At times, additional medical help may be necessary to reduce your pet's anxiety before a trip to the veterinarian. Despite your best efforts, your pet might still feel stressed. Communicate this with our team and we can figure out a plan that is right for your particular pet.

Medications and supplements can often be prescribed to ease transportation stress, promoting a more positive vet visit experience. Administer these medications or supplements at home 2 hours (or when instructed by your veterinarian) before the visit. This strategy can make it easier to get your pet into a carrier, reduce fear during the car ride, and help create a more pleasant clinic visit for your furry family member. We encourage you to contact your veterinarian about your pet's anxiety level before your appointment. Together, we can discuss a fear-free plan to make your dog's next vet visit less stressful.  

A small dog and a veterinarian.

Making Your Visit the Best It Can Be

At Family Pet Veterinary Centers, we want to provide your pet with the best experience possible. We make every effort to lessen the amount of fear, anxiety, and stress that may be associated with your pet’s visit. Our approach includes gentle handling techniques, a calm and soothing environment, and the use of positive reinforcement to ensure your pet feels comfortable and secure. 

Additionally, each of our locations has a Fear Free Certified veterinarian, dedicated to implementing these practices and making every visit as stress-free as possible. Our commitment to Fear Free care helps create a positive veterinary experience for both you and your pet, promoting better health and well-being.

By taking a few simple steps at home, you can make your dog’s visits to the vet fear free!

If you have questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (515) 224-9747, or you can email us at [email protected]. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram.


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