What Low Stress Handling at the Vet's Means for You and Your Dog

When your dog visits the vet, what are your top priorities?

Factors such as a correct diagnosis, being seen on time, and expense are all important. But what about your dog's confidence and happiness?

Most vets make an effort to put a pet at ease, but some really put themselves out by using low stress handling techniques. This involves closely monitoring the dog's body language during any procedure and stopping before the pet becomes over-stressed. The vet also rewards calm, brave behavior with treats, so the dog builds positive associations between things like injections and blood draws. Great!

But there is a downside. Handling dogs this way takes time and the clinic may run late. If the dog can't cope, it can also mean a repeat visits for the pet parent. In addition, this may require owner commitment such as popping into the clinic, when passing, to help the dog feel at home.

Low stress handling is revolutionary and undoubtedly beneficial to the pet, but be prepared to put yourself out to achieve it.

Visiting When Well

Think of the dog that visits the vet once a year - for a booster injection - or when he's ill. How must he feel? It's likely he has unhappy memories of those visits associated with needles and pain, which make him more and more reluctant to visit as the years roll by.

Instead, now think of the dog who pops into the vet's waiting room regularly, to get a treat from the receptionist. Now he sees the door and strains to go in, because he makes the link between this building and being the center of attention in a very positive way.

Lesson learned: Don't wait for your pet to be ill to visit the clinic.

Softly, Softly, Approach

OK, so your dog hates having his nails clipped. In an escalating battle of strength, each visit he struggles harder, until he ends up muzzled and pinned down by two vet techs. The nails are clipped but he goes home a trembling wreck, determined never to have that happen again.

Low-stress handling takes a different approach. Instead of fighting the dog, it recognizes the moment he leaves his comfort zone. Instead of clipping all the paws, perhaps just one or two toes are trimmed and the dog left to calm down. Then once he's chilled again, he gets a treat. Slowly he learns that having a nail trimmed leads to a scrummy treat and his resentment abates.

Of course, the drawback is that this takes time - lots of it - and very likely several repeat trips. Indeed there are some dogs who are way past the point of reasoning, in which case the next tool in the low-stress box is medication.  

Taking a 'Brave Pill'

Anxiolytics (such as meds from the valium family) literally reduce anxiety. They help keep the pet calm so that he's better able to cope with a medical exam or blood draw. In addition, anxiolytics can help an animal 'forget' the experience, which in practical terms means that he didn't enjoy the vet visit but soon forgets about it anyway

When a pet is particularly stressed, the vet may suggest aborting that particular visit, and going home with a pill to give immediately before the next appointment. This way the dog enters the clinic relaxed and is less likely to get wound up to the point of distress.

A Pet Partnership

Be prepared to work with your vet to bring about a low stress visit for your pet. Just be aware this can mean extra time, return visits, or even medication. But surely this has to be worth it in the long run, to keep your hound happy and confident at the vet’s?

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