Does your heart rate increase when you think about going to the doctor? Your pet may also experience white coat syndrome, but they do not understand that their veterinary visits help them live longer, healthier lives. As Austin’s first Fear Free-certified veterinary hospital, we understand the importance of a pleasant veterinary experience for your pet. But, believe it or not, a successful, stress-free visit starts long before your pet steps paw in our door—it starts at home. We want to do everything possible to help your pet have a stress-free visit, so we have compiled a list of ways you can prepare your pet. 

#1: Practice handling your pet

Many pets do not like having their paws touched, ears handled, or mouth pried open, especially if this handling occurs only during a veterinary visit, and is often paired with needle pokes. Help your pet dissociate exam-style handling from other unpleasant procedures by handling them often at home. Beginning to handle a new puppy’s ears, feet, and mouth from an early age is best, but you can also teach your adult dog that these actions are not scary. Start by touching your pet’s paw, and then giving them a treat. Gradually work up to holding their paw, and then asking them to present their paw for a reward. Do the same with other intimidating actions, such as touching your pet’s ears, and opening their mouth. They will learn that these actions are not threatening, and won’t get worked up during their next veterinary exam. 

As a Fear Free-certified hospital, we offer victory visits, where we take your at-home handling to the next level. During a victory visit, we go through the motions of a typical veterinary visit, such as gently restraining your pet, handling their paws, ears, and mouth, and lifting their tail, while lavishing them with praise and treats. We can also prepare your pet for stress-free injections and blood draws. Several victory visits for your pet may be necessary for them to become more comfortable with these actions, but by pairing your at-home practice with in-hospital trial runs, we can make your pet’s next visit a success.

#2: Acclimate your pet to their carrier

If you only unearth your cat’s carrier, or your dog’s crate, minutes before cramming them in for a trip to our hospital, they will undoubtedly associate it with impending doom. Instead, leave your pet’s carrier out for several weeks, with cozy blankets and toys inside. Prop the door open so they cannot become trapped, and place a few high-value treats, such as hot dog or cheese pieces, inside the carrier several times a day. After your pet goes in and out willingly, close the door for a few seconds, and then let them out and give them a treat. Work up to carrying your pet in the carrier without them becoming stressed—ensure you support the carrier with both hands on the bottom, rather than by the handle, which will allow it to tip and sway.   

#3: Take your pet on a practice ride

If your pet takes car rides only a few times a year, after being chased down and shoved into their crate, no wonder they arrive for their visit a panting, drooling mess. Our fear-free techniques will work best if your pet arrives for their appointment relaxed, so conquering their travel fears will help ensure the best visit possible. Start by allowing your pet to investigate your car while rewarding them with treats. Next time, start the car and let it run while you pet and play with your pet. Then, go for a five-minute drive with your pet. Gradually work your way up to longer trips until your pet is no longer fearful of riding in the car.

#4: Bring your pet for a happy visit

We always have your pet’s best interests in mind, but they may not understand that. Coming to a new place with strangers in weird uniforms whom they associate with being poked and prodded can be scary. So, we also offer happy visits to help your pet get to know us outside a typical veterinary visit. During a happy visit, we tour your pet through our hospital to meet the team, so they will be coming to a familiar place full of friendly places when they arrive for their next appointment. Ensure you bring your pet to their happy visit hungry—we will use plenty of treats and attention to help them form positive associations with our hospital and staff.

As you can see, preparing your pet for a stress-free veterinary visit will take time, so start now. Contact us to set up a happy visit or victory visit for the ultimate fear-free preparation and help your pet master their next appointment with ease.