Confession time ... I hate going to the doctor. The idea of someone examining me, analyzing my day to day habits, making recommendations on my exercise and eating habits, fills me with dread. My palms get sweaty, I become tongue tied. I have even had falsely elevated blood pressure readings, simply from the stress of going to the doctor.
If a visit to the doctor's office is that stressful for me, I can only imagine how stressful it must be for my feline and canine patients to come see me. They don’t know where they are and they don’t understand what we need to do and, of course, they can’t fathom why they have to get blood drawn or be given vaccines!
As veterinarians, we know that our patients are mostly unwilling participants when it comes to visiting the vet. But, we work diligently to make the experience as positive as possible. For a lot of pets, the lobby is a stressful place- lots of new smells, odd sounds and (frequently) other animals. By getting our patients in the exam room as quickly as possible, we avoid a lot of unneeded stimuli that are only going to make animals more amped up. For a lot of animals, especially our canine patients, food is a big tool to help with cooperation during their visit. Dog treats, peanut butter, and spray cheese are great for helping us build trust with our patients and provide a great distraction during vaccines and nail trims.
For our feline friends, coming to the vet is especially stressful. It is rare for cats to leave their home more than once a year, if that. Cats are also especially sensitive to new smells - which can make the lobby and exam room especially stimulating. We have one specific exam room that we use ONLY for cats - so no dog smells are in the room. We also use feline pheromones that are specifically designed to help keep cats calm and relaxed. We let cats leave their carrier on their own accord. We all know that cats want to be the boss, so we try to follow their lead!
Even with all of these techniques, there are many patients who are still very anxious. The last thing we want to do is make an animal more fearful through a bad experience. In a lot of these cases, we will prescribe anti-anxiety medications to administer at home before the patient even arrives in the hospital. We find that with these medications on board, patients are more relaxed and will remember the positive experience at future visits.
Our goal is for all of our patients, and their owners, to have the best possible visit to our clinic. We know it is stressful, but we hope to minimize that stress as best we can.
Kellie E. McMurry, DVM
Animal Hospital of Danville