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Fun at the vets

Fun at the vets

All too frequently, owners find themselves struggling to take their reluctant dog into the veterinary practice for treatment. For cat owners, the difficulty often begins with getting the cat into the carrier at home. From an animalís perspective, a vet practice can be a frightening place. Every time they visit, something painful or intrusive may happen. The environment is also full of novel and unique sights, sounds and smells which pets can find threatening.

Not only are the stress levels experienced by the animals (and owners!) a welfare issue, it is also much harder for the vet to examine and treat a terrified pet. However, there are ways to prevent your pet from feeling anxious or scared and you should talk to your veterinary practice about how you can work together to make things easier for you and your pet.

If you are the owner of a new puppy it is good to begin your relationship with your veterinary practice as early as possible. Take your puppy to the vets regularly, at a time that is convenient to the staff. Allow your pup to sniff and explore all the sights and sounds and give them some treats or play a game in order to make positive associations with the practice environment. Ask the staff if you can take your puppy into a consult room so you can pop them on the table, feed them some treats and get them used to the sights of stethoscopes and syringes. At home you can help to positively prepare your puppy for visits to the vets by gently examining and restraining your puppy while rewarding calm behaviour.

Kitten training should start at home and involve reducing levels of stress associated with cat carriers. Leave the cat carrier open and in a place your kitten can access it. Make it comfortable and leave some treats inside to encourage your kitten to explore. Start to shut the door while the kitten is busy eating the treats but open it again before it gets worried about being shut in. Build up the length of time the kitten is shut in, until you can pick up the carrier. The next stage is to put the carrier inside the cat and sit in the car feeding treats through the carrier in order to form a positive association with the car.

The principle of forming positive associations can also be applied to animals that already have a fear of the vets but the steps will need to be undertaken much more slowly. For example, before taking your pet to the vet practice you may need to start off with forming a positive association with the smell of the vets. Ask if you can leave a cloth at the practice before bringing it home in an airtight container. Allow your pet to sniff it and if they remain calm you can reward that reaction by giving a small food treat. Select a time when your pet has no planned visits to the vets and ask the practice staff if you can arrange some mock visits to the practice during a quiet period when there are no other pets or owners around. Treats can be used to help in the formation of positive associations but it is very important to make sure that your dog is relaxed before such treats appear. Also remember to maintain your dogís sense of security by ensuring that it is you who gives your dog treats rather than any member of staff, and even then you deliver the food treat in a passive manner, for example by dropping the treat to the floor for your dog. It is important to realise that your dog needs to be in a positive emotional state before interaction can continue and at no time should you force your dog to endure an introduction to the practice that makes him feel uncomfortable. If your dog has reason to visit the vets due to illness during the treatment plan it can be helpful to give medication which will block the memory of the experience and your general practice vet can assist you with this.