Preparing Your Anxious Dog For A Vet Visit

If you have an anxious dog, there is no question that all trips to the vet can be stressful and scary. Trips can usually make a dog feel extra-nervous if they are not used to them. Someone unfamiliar handling them and poking them in a place that is not their home with strange surfaces and smells can be upsetting. Even dogs that are well-socialized and easygoing can have a difficult time with trips to the vet. At the same time, vet visits are unavoidable as they are necessary for your dog’s health and wellbeing.

As an owner, there are ways to plan accordingly and ahead of time so that you can keep your dog calm during those checkups. Sometimes just speaking to your dog in a soothing manner can help create a feeling of ease, and it will become more adjusted.

Anxiety in dogs can be treated with some helpful tools and tactics that may even change your stressed-out pup into one that enjoys their visits to the vet, and you can feel better knowing that you are providing them the best care.

Here are some helpful suggestions that you can try the next time you have to take your stressful furry friend to the vet. If one doesn’t work, you can always try another and see what tools or resources are best to help your dog feel more comfortable and calm.

Distract Your Dog

A tried and true tactic, just like with young children, a dog can be easily distracted. When you sense the nervousness sets in, give your dog its favorite toy or blanket that has a familiar, comforting scent. Things like these can help to keep your dog calm in an unfamiliar place.

Toys are helpful to keep your dog’s focus on something other than the visit itself. Interactive toys or food puzzles are great options to keep your dog busy and occupied as much as possible during the stay so that they don’t suddenly realize what is happening and become scared.

Do A ‘Meet And Greet’ Visit

If you can, you should try and schedule a simple greeting visit with your veterinarian before your dog’s actual appointment. Many vet clinics encourage what they have dubbed as “happy visits,” where the staff and doctor get to meet, pet and feed your dog some treats. Going to the location helps with dog socialization and allows your dog to become familiar with the people, smells, and sights.

If you take your dog for a “happy visit” to the vet just to meet everyone first before having an actual exam, it should help encourage your dog to feel less anxious about the next visit. You could also try out doing some practice runs with your dog, taking car rides to various locations so that riding in the car is a more pleasant experience as well.

Reward Your Dog’S Good Behavior

Dog treats provide positive reinforcement, so equip yourself with treats so that you can encourage and reward your dog for behaving well. Keep your dog’s initial meal light in preparation for the day of the appointment. With some calming encouragement, your dog will be more excited to get those treats instead of feeling anxious or stressed in the waiting room.

Stick To Your Daily Routine

Don’t change anything regarding your dog for the appointment. Instead, keep everything very calm and happy by walking your dog or any other regular activity. Dogs can pick up on subtle changes, and they might suspect something is wrong if there are changes its normal routine.

In some cases, you might not be able to engage in treats or walks. Your vet may have explicitly asked that your dog fasts before coming in due to a surgery or needs to refrain from engaging in too much activity before the visit. Otherwise, taking your dog on a brisk walk can help burn off any pent-up energy, which will aid in keeping your dog calm when going to the office.

Touch Your Dog Everywhere

Touch Your Dog Everywhere
It would be helpful if you could get your dog accustomed to being touched and poked. It is essential to help your dog feel more comfortable during the examination, and in a routine exam, the vet will look all over your dog’s body.

Dogs that are petted, handled, and touched more often will be less likely to view this as an invasion of their space. They might even regard their veterinarian with more affection when becoming used to all of the attention.

You can help your dog to become used to being handled more by making it part of your routine with your dog at home. Playing games together like fetch or tug-of-war can lead to all-out wrestling, where your dog will be actively handled.

Take a little bit of time each day leading up to the appointment to get your dog more accustomed to touching. Look at your dog’s eyes, ears, mouth, probe its belly and move its joints around. During more quiet and relaxed times, you can make sure to stroke your dog from head to paw, rub its belly, and massage around its tail, even prod between its paws or move its legs around. The constant touching will make it much easier for them to be handled during regular vet visits.

Teach Your Dog Basic Commands

Teach Your Dog Basic Commands
Another helpful tool you can implement with your dog is using some basic training. Instilling some basic commands for your dog can go a long way towards helping keep your dog calm since the focus and attention turns to you. Your dog will also be more relaxed knowing that you are asking it to move into a specific position without the vet or staff trying to push or pull your dog in a certain way.

Commands that you can teach your dog include: sit, stand, come, lie down, and turn around. These are all basic behaviors that will help ease your pet during its exam. Dogs usually want to slink away or tuck their tail instead of holding still, and knowing the commands “sit” and “lie down” will make it easier for your dog to stay in one place.

Some other commands that you could train your dog in to help would be:

  • Shake – this can help the vet when needing to look at your dog’s paws.
  • Watch Me – this can help distract your dog if getting a shot so that you can turn your dog’s focus towards you and it doesn’t react (or overreact) to what is about to happen.
  • Touch – you can train your dog to touch you with its nose. That way, you can quickly move your dog’s face into position by putting your hand to its nose.

Use Of A Crate Or Muzzle

Crate training a dog can be necessary for helping your dog learn how to go to the bathroom outside. They also provide your dog with an area for sleeping and can provide comfort.

So, it could be an excellent option to bring your dog’s crate along as a source of relaxation so that your dog can settle in without any stress. The crate will also help provide that same source of calm if your dog needs to stay overnight with the vet for any reason.

Purchasing a fabric-lined, soft muzzle that allows your dog to take treats while wearing can help to ensure that your dog is prepared, just in case. Getting your dog used to wearing one does not mean that your dog is bad or that it will bite.

However, if you know that the vet will involve examining a sensitive area, you want to be prepared. Sometimes vet visits are essential to address a health concern or possible injury, and any touching going on in the place where the pain is will make your dog react. Friendly and well-socialized dogs will also react when they feel threatened or hurt, and if your dog is in pain or has an injury utilizing a soft muzzle can be the perfect preventative measure.

Brush Your Dog’s Teeth

Many vets have trouble with dogs’ mouths being handled. It would help if you could brush your dog’s teeth on a regular basis so that they can grow used to having their mouths dealt with so that they don’t react when the vet does it. It will also be good to brush your dog’s teeth to keep them from having to be cleaned at the vet office.

When brushing their teeth, use canine toothpaste since regular toothpaste that humans use is not safe for dogs. You also don’t have to worry about doing it well or, ideally, as long as you do it so that your dog gets used to having things in its mouth more often.

Dogs that are more reluctant to let you do a lot of touching, poking, or prodding need some patience on your part. Treats can come in handy here for encouraging you to allow your dog to be handled. For example, if your dog has sensitivity being touched on its paws, you can start by stroking the foot quickly and then giving the dog a treat. Once you have done this a few times, you can gradually increase the amount of time you stroke the paw and work up to holding it, giving squeezes, and touching between the toes.

Use Aids Or Supplements For Anxiety

Another way you can try to desensitize your dog to vet visits is using anxiety aides. Some at-home aids can include the use of pressure wraps or herbal supplements meant to soothe stress and calm anxieties. Just be sure to check that the supplement is safe enough for your furry friend before use on your dog. You could also use a calming pheromone spray that can help make your dog feel less anxious and calmer when going to the vet.

Medication, such as a dog sedative, is another method to explore, though this can often be utilized as a “last resort.” All dogs react to sedatives differently, so be prepared that this option will “[require] trial and error to find the best medication and dose” for your pup’s specific needs.

House Calls Could Be An Option

If your dog seems more anxious in any setting, it might help if you look to see if any local veterinarian does house calls. Providing the exams within the comfort of home could be an excellent way for your dog to stay relaxed by not having to travel to a new, unfamiliar place.

In the same token, you do not want your dog to form any negative associations in places at home, so be sure to work on desensitization training regardless if you are going to the vet or having the vet come to your house. If you can, have the vet do a “meet and greet” house call first for your dog to become familiar with the visit before an actual examination occurs.

Keep At It!

The most crucial aspect of using any of these tactics is to stay calm and speak to your dog in a relaxed voice. Dogs can pick up on their owners’ own stress or fears, so if you’re anxious, your dog is more likely to react anxiously as well. Stay as upbeat as you can and positive so that your dog can look at the experience as a positive one.

Whatever method that you decide upon for your approach to your anxious dog, ensuring it is calm before a vet visit, make sure that you take note of what method works best. You will want to use the same techniques over and over to keep your dog familiarized and comforted.

It can also be a great idea to occasionally stop by the vet’s office for “hello” in between visits so that your dog continues to feel comfortable there. You may even want to try all of these suggestions before settling on one that helps the most or possibly using more than one if they work effectively at keeping your dog relaxed.

About Nicole McCray

Nicole is a die-hard animal lover who has worked in pet care for years. She is a former vet technician, a dog mom to her two rescue pups, and she grew up living and working at her family's pet boarding facility. She loves using her writing talents to share the insight she's learned throughout her career in the hopes that her knowledge can help other pet parents out there!

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