Misty and Miri
Misty and Miri love boarding at the vet. Photo by Dr. Teri Ann Oursler.
Today is the day: your new puppy or kitten is finally here, you have chosen your veterinarian, and now it is time to go for the first visit.
Wait, let’s back up a minute. Let’s insert a few steps in between getting your new puppy or kitten and going to the veterinarian.
It is estimated that 40 percent of pets in the United States do not see a veterinarian and the number one reason is the owners do not like seeing their pets afraid. The fear of the trip to the veterinarian is real, but it can be overcome or prevented.
I have had several patients over the years who not only did not mind coming to the vet, they would get themselves to us on their own! Buffy was a male Shih Tzu escape artist who would deliver himself to the front door of the clinic. All he wanted was some love. Oh, and a ride back home! There was also Buck, a black lab, who would jump out of the truck when it was parked next door at the bar. He would also come to the front door, scratch to come in, sit on the scale, get some loves, and head back to his truck.
Wait, you say, you have a cat, not a dog; dogs are easy, cats – not so much! Let me introduce you to Misty and Miri, who were frequent feline boarders at my veterinary practice. They would come to the clinic, stroll out of the carrier, and take up residence on the printer in my office. They were acclimated to the place and so considered it a second home. While that was not the norm for most of my feline patients, they also did not come in with teeth and claws bared, ready for battle.
How do you go about acclimating your pet to the veterinary clinic, creating the next Buffy, Buck, Misty, or Miri?
- Take many frequent short car rides and do NOT go to the veterinarian. Make these as pleasant for your puppy as possible.
- Take your puppy to the veterinarian for just a visit, treats, and some petting. Make several visits where there is no pain involved.
- Make sure they are safely contained, either on a leash they are used to, or in a carrier.
- Consider a dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) collar, which can help reduce stress.
- Make sure your puppy is on a non-slip surface during the car ride to prevent sliding
- Bring familiar objects from home, such as a bed or toy.
- Acclimate your cat to his carrier by feeding him in it. This way, the sight of the carrier does not cause angst. Start this project as soon as you get your kitten or cat.
- Put the carrier in the car and go for a short ride, ending up back at home. A cat can learn to travel as well as a dog.
- When in the car, cover the carrier so that the cat feels like they are in a cocoon and safe. Make sure you have enough air flow for them to not get hot or have difficulty breathing.
- Use a non-slip surface in the carrier so they are not sliding around.
- Make short trips to the veterinarian that involves no money, only going in and playing a bit - a no pain, non-vaccine visit. Take your cat or kitten hungry, so they can be fed a treat while there.
- Spray something like Feliway on the towel you put in the carrier; it mimics the natural feline facial pheromone that helps with keeping cats calm.
- Carriers that open from the top are frequently less intimidating to a cat, so it is easier to get them in and out. (Shoveling an annoyed cat into an upended carrier can become a stressful battle of wills that is best avoided, especially when you have to leave now.)
- Bring familiar objects from home, such as a bed or toy, so that your cat feels more comfortable.
Some pets will take a longer time than others to acclimate to everything involved, and some will adjust better than others, but the more you can do when they’re young, the better. If the babies are exposed to numerous experiences and places while young, the better off they will be behaviorally. If something bad happens to them during the sensitive socialization period, it’s harder for them to overcome any behavioral fallout, so do your best to socialize them as much as possible, and be more careful during the socialization periods about avoiding unpleasant situations. The best socialization time for a puppy is 8-12 weeks and 2-7 weeks for a kitten.
You’ve gotten your pet used to traveling for visit; is there anything else you need to do beforehand? So, glad you asked! When you are at home, when you and your pet are relaxed, get them used to being handled. Look in their ears while they are sitting there in your lap. Handle their feet so they get used to having their toenails trimmed. Look in their mouth, being careful to not overextend their jaw. The more you handle your pet at home, when they feel safe and comfortable, the better they will be at being handled at the veterinary clinic.
If you are one of those people who have adopted an adult cat or dog, the same principles above apply, but can take longer and therefore require more patience to implement. Just as you have learned new things as an adult, so can your adult dog and cat.
All these non-medical, introductory trips, as well as all of the easier handling at home, should have a great payoff that will last the life of your new pet. The benefits will also be helpful in other areas of life, as they instill confidence. Sure, it takes extra time, but it’s well worth the result…unless you don’t mind dragging your dog into the clinic or a cat caterwauling before, during, and after the appointment.
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.