by Jennifer Mathews, DVM
Did you know veterinary colleges used to teach students that animals don't feel pain or fear?
Yes, that was a long time ago, and to those of us who think of their pets as furry children (and who doesn't?) the idea seems ludicrous. Now we know better. Researchers can test cortisol levels, measure heart rates, and assess body posture for signs of anxiety. We've proven that animals do, in fact, feel pain and fear, and respond much the same as humans.
One of the best changes in veterinary medicine in the last few years is the Low-Stress Handling movement, spearheaded by the late Dr. Sophia Yin, and the Fear-Free approach by Dr. Marty Becker.
Because we entered this profession out of a genuine love for animals, Southpark doctors and staff were early adopters of these concepts. We have dozens of tricks, techniques, and aids to help pets feel calm during their visit at Southpark; from the wall color, to our music (Through a Dog's Ear), to the pheromones we use in the exam rooms, every detail of your furbaby's experience at Southpark is designed to help him or her relax.
Dr. Ginger LaNye is a master at distracting puppies and kittens while they receive critical vaccinations, while Dr. Stephanie Broadbooks is known for her gentle approach to dogs who've struggled during visits to other vets. All of our staff receives outside training on making the visit as low-stress as possible.
Here are tips you can use to keep your furbaby calm before and during his or her veterinary visit:
* Park the cat carrier in the living room when there's no upcoming trip. Put fun treats and toys inside. It's a great playhouse. You can practice by shutting the door for a few seconds, then offering a wonderful treat when you open it. Then put the carrier away so there's not always a ride to the vet when the carrier comes out.
* Don't baby talk during the ride. This is just another trip to the dog park, right? Speak as you do normally when your furbaby is in the car.
* With your vet's approval, have your furbaby arrive at the vet's office hungry. We use treats as distraction and reward, so it's helpful if your pet hasn't just finished a four-course meal. This is also useful if bloodwork is needed (with some exceptions for conditions like diabetes.)
* Make a game of doing mock exams at home. Belly rubs can include a gentle look at your furbaby's feet, ear caresses can conclude with a quick peek inside. Even the dreaded thermometer won't be so bad if your furbaby is used to having his or her tail handled. Don't forget the treats!
* Teach basic instructions of Sit, Stay, Down, and Leave It. In addition to helping your pet know what to do when he or she is anxious, these commands establish a level of trust and confidence in both the pet and the parent.
* Visit the vet's office for fun! We love it when people drop in for a weight check and a treat! This gives us a chance to see and cuddle your furbaby when there's no pressing medical issue. Over the years, we've had pets go from feeling worried to genuinely being happy to see us.
* Check in with your own level of anxiety. You're the pack leader. If you're nervous, your furbaby will follow his or her evolutionary instincts and become nervous, too.
Your pet deserves to be happy and comfortable! Be sure to choose a veterinary professional who's dedicated to the mission of providing your furbaby with a fun, stress-free veterinary visit.