3 min read
What Low Stress Handling at the Vet's Means for You and Your Dog
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 09/15/2017, edited: 08/10/2021
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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 your pet at ease, but some really put themselves out by using low stress handling techniques. This involves closely monitoring your dog's body language during any procedure and stopping before your pooch becomes over-stressed. The vet also rewards calm, brave behavior with treats, so your 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 your dog can't cope, it can also mean a repeat visit for you. In addition, this may require owner commitment such as popping into the clinic when passing by, to help your 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 ill. How must they feel? It's likely they have unhappy memories of those visits associated with needles and pain, which make them more and more reluctant to visit as the years roll by.
Instead, now think of your dog popping into the vet's waiting room regularly, to get a treat from the receptionist. Now they see the door and strain to go in, because they make the link between this building and being the center of attention in a very positive way.
Lesson learned: Don't wait for your pup to be ill to visit the clinic.
Softly, Softly, Approach
Okay, so your dog hates having their nails clipped. In an escalating battle of strength, each visit they struggle harder, until they end up muzzled and pinned down by two vet techs. The nails are clipped but your furry buddy 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 they leave their 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 they are chilled again, they get a treat. Slowly they learn that having a nail trimmed leads to a yummy treat and their 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 your dog calm so that they are 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 they didn't enjoy the vet visit but soon forget about it anyway
When your pet is particularly stressed, the vet may suggest stopping that particular visit, and going home with a pill to give immediately before the next appointment. This way your 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?