Preparing Your Pet for a Vet Visit

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Not many people like going to the doctor, but at least we understand when and why it’s necessary. You can’t say the same for animals—which is why going to the vet can be at least as unpleasant for them as a doctor’s visit is for us. But read on for tips on how you can prepare your cat or dog for a vet visit, and make it as stress-free as possible. (For both of you!)

How to Prepare Your Cat for the Vet

The right carrier and some pre-visit acclimation and preparation will help your cat feel safe and comfortable at the veterinary clinic on the big day.

  1. Get the right carrier for your cat. It should be big enough to fit both your cat and his bedding. Hard carriers are best: they’re sturdy and stable. Two doors, one on the front and one on the top, will give the pet multiple entrances and exits, and make accessing the pet easier for veterinarians and techs. Bonus: Get a carrier with a removable top. This will allow the cat to remain in the bottom of the carrier with a minimum of handling as the vet examines him. (This is especially good for very sick or injured pets.) Less handling means less stress, in general.
  2. Acclimate your cat to the carrier. At least a few days before the vet visit, leave the carrier in your house with the door open, lined with familiar bedding. Sprinkle catnip or treats inside to encourage your cat to explore and get comfortable; you can associate the carrier with pleasant experiences this way. You’re trying to make the carrier a place of safety and familiarity for your cat. If possible, take your cat for short walks or car rides in the carrier as well.
  3. Acclimate your cat to being touched and handled. Since your veterinarian will be handling your cat, try to get your cat accustomed to being touched. Gently touch, handle, and manipulate more sensitive areas of his body, like his legs, paws, ears, and mouth. The best time to initiate this is when he’s a young kitten, but it’s never too late to start!

What to Do on the Day of Your Cat’s Vet Visit

Here’s how to keep things as stress-free as possible on the big day.

  1. Prep the carrier. Put comfy bedding inside the carrier, preferably a soft blanket or a small pet bed that has a familiar scent. (This isn’t the time to introduce brand-new bedding.) Try to entice your cat to get in on his own by putting treats or a favorite toy inside. You can also use a pheromone spray (such as Feliway) on the bedding, about 30 minutes prior to traveling, to keep your cat calm. Finally, once your cat is inside, cover the carrier with a light blanket to decrease visual stimulation.
  2. Take necessary steps and precautions if traveling by car. Keep the carrier on the floor in the back, for safety and stability. Avoid feeding him a large meal at least two to three hours before the exam, since you don’t want to risk motion sickness (always a risk, especially if your cat isn’t used to traveling by car). Don’t drive too quickly. Play calming music at a low volume; studies show that pets respond best to classical music.
  3. Prepare the veterinary team. Upon arrival, tip off the veterinary team to any pointers that can help them. For instance, perhaps your cat doesn’t like being on his side, or is touchy about his mouth; or maybe he would prefer being handled in his carrier, or mostly handled by you instead of a vet tech. This will not only help minimize stress during the visit but can also provide clues about potential underlying issues, especially if the behavior is new. For instance, mouth sensitivity could indicate oral issues.
  4. Use positive reinforcement during the visit. Providing treats, toys, and cuddles during the visit can help create positive associations with veterinary visits.
  5. Remain as calm and positive as possible. Our pets often take their emotional cues from us. So try not to act nervous or stressed during the veterinary visit.

Our pets often take their emotional cues from us. So try not to act nervous or stressed during the veterinary visit.

How to Prepare Your Dog for the Vet

Dogs are obviously quite different from cats, so vet prep for them will be different, too.

  1. Figure out what kind of carrier or walking equipment you’ll want to use. Remember that even well-behaved dogs can startle when in close, unfamiliar quarters with people and animals they don’t know. For smaller dogs, a familiar and comfortable carrier, covered to reduce visual stimuli, might be your best bet. If you plan to keep your dog on a leash instead, consider a shorter one; retractable leashes should be locked and allow minimal slack. We suggest using a harness instead of a collar, since it allows for more control over larger, energetic dogs and prevents putting pressure and strain on delicate necks. (Most pet stores can help you fit your pet with the right-sized harness.)
  2. Visit the clinic between visits if possible. Making positive associations with the clinic will make visits more enjoyable or at least less unpleasant for your dog. Bring her by and let her say hi to the vet techs; they might even let you weigh her. Give lots of affection, treats, and cuddles while you’re in the clinic, so that it becomes a place your dog feels good about going to.
  3. Encourage desensitization to routine veterinary handling. Gently manipulate sensitive areas of your dog’s body: the legs, paws, ears, and mouth. Provide treats if there are any especially touchy areas. It’s best to start doing this kind of desensitization when your pup is very young, but it’s never too late to start!
  4. Acclimate your dog to car rides, if necessary. If you’ll be driving to the vet clinic, it’s a good idea to make sure your pup is accustomed to being driven. That will reduce stress on the day of the vet visit.

What to Do on the Day of Your Dog’s Vet Visit

On the big day, here’s what to remember when bringing your dog to the vet.

  1. Take necessary steps and precautions if traveling by car. Secure the carrier on the back seat on the passenger side, for safety and stability, and cover to reduce visual stimuli. Secure larger dogs with a safety harness. Avoid feeding her a large meal at least two to three hours before the exam, since you don’t want to risk motion sickness (always a risk, especially if your dog isn’t used to traveling by car). Don’t drive too quickly. Play calming music at a low volume; studies show that pets respond best to classical. If your dog does tend to get carsick, ask your vet about motion sickness meds.
  2. Prepare the veterinary team. Inform the veterinary staff in advance of any stressors or stimuli that are particularly upsetting to your pet—for instance, perhaps she gets anxious around other dogs, doesn’t like being held by strangers, or shows aggression when people get close to her mouth. This will not only help minimize stress during the visit but can also provide clues about potential underlying issues, especially if the behavior is new. For instance, mouth sensitivity could indicate oral issues.
  3. Use positive reinforcement during the visit. Providing treats, toys, and cuddles during the visit can help create positive associations with veterinary visits.
  4. Remain as calm and positive as possible. Our pets often take their emotional cues from us. So try not to act nervous or stressed during the veterinary visit.

If You Need a Little Something Extra: Anti-Anxiety Meds

For especially nervous cats and dogs, your veterinarian can prescribe medication to give prior to an appointment to help ease anxiety. Discuss this with your veterinary team prior to the appointment.

And don’t forget — if you have any other questions or concerns about vet visits, you can always reach out to Small Door. We’d be happy to give you more advice on how to keep your pets calm during their visits to come see us!

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