Why is my dog anxious at the vet? What can I do to help?
We’ve all had the dreadful feeling of remorse or embarrassment when our furry friends get a little jittery and refuse to be on their best behavior at the vet’s office.
When I recently brought my Chihuahua in for a check-up, he had all the telltale signs of anxiety: cowering, pinned ears, tail tucked between the legs, and let’s not forget the high-pitched yelp when a vet tech’s hand came near his body.
If your doggo turns into a scaredy cat at the vet, don’t sweat it! It’s actually pretty common.
6 Common Causes of Vet Anxiety in Dogs
The most common reasons for vet anxiety in dogs include:
- Sensory overload in an unfamiliar place
- Negative past experiences
- Discomfort or stress over being handled by strangers
- Picking up on your anxiety and stress
- Separation anxiety
Let’s take a closer look at each of these causes. Then, we’ll go over some tips on how to ease Fido’s fears.
1. They can’t relax in unfamiliar places.
Imagine taking a lone walk along a new trail with a bunch of unfamiliar faces, new smells, and loud noises.
It’s pretty overwhelming…even with pepper spray at your side. Well, for dogs, the vet’s office is kinda like that—new and strange.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), dogs can get anxious in new environments due to sensory overload, just like we might in a busy and unfamiliar place.
When my autistic son enters an overwhelming place of sights and sounds, he shuts down and sometimes becomes inconsolable.
Vet clinics can get “wild” with all the animals, smells, and sounds. It’s like a big party, but not the good kind for your dog.
2. They have better memories than elephants.
If your furry pal had a rough time at the vet before, they might be dreading going back.
Maybe they had a painful shot or an uncomfortable procedure—those memories stick with them.
Numerous studies show that dogs remember negative experiences, and those memories can make them fearful or anxious in similar situations.
3. They don’t like being handled.
Some dogs simply don’t like being poked and prodded during check-ups.
Totally understandable, right? Just like we might not enjoy a stranger touching us without permission.
As certified professional dog trainer Victoria Stilwell from Animal Planet’s, “It’s Me of the Dog” notes, dogs need to be taught to feel comfortable with handling from a young age, so they don’t get anxious during vet visits.
I personally didn’t handle my Chihuahua much as a puppy because I didn’t want him to become the textbook “handbag” dog. As a result, he’s a bit awkward in my own arms…so I can only imagine how tense a stranger’s arm might be.
4. They are intuitive creatures.
Dogs are amazing at picking up on our feelings, so if you’re anxious or nervous during the vet visit, your dog may pick up on those cues and feel anxious as well. It’s like they’re reading your mind!
5. They are hurt or sick.
Some medical conditions, like pain or discomfort, can make dogs more sensitive and anxious during vet visits.
Anyone who has ever helped a hurt dog knows how reactive they can become when a stranger is getting close and that instinctual self-preservation kicks in.
6. They have separation anxiety.
For dogs with separation anxiety, being away from their owner in an unfamiliar environment can heighten their stress.
One BIGGEST reason I was against holding my Chihuahua Jax too much was because I made that mistake with my first Chihuahua.
Tinkerbell was just too small and cute to let out of my arms, but all good things came to an end when “mom” went to work every morning.
At our next routine vet visit, I discovered she had been grinding down her teeth on the kennel bars while I was away!
How to Ease Your Dog’s Vet Anxiety
Now that we understand why our furry buddies get anxious, here are some awesome tips from experts that might help them feel better.
1. Make the vet a happy place.
Take your dog to the vet for short, positive visits where they get treats and cuddles – no scary stuff!
By gradually introducing your dog to the vet’s office environment, a positive association will form as they explore and sniff around without any procedures being done.
This helps reduce their anxiety over time.
Heck, if you go in once a month just to chat up the receptionists during slow periods, they might give your pal extra special care since you’re a friend of the office.
2. Get the basics down.
Dr. Marty Becker, a veterinarian and animal behavior expert, emphasizes the importance of teaching dogs basic obedience and handling skills.
This makes vet visits less stressful since your dog is used to being touched and handled.
BONUS TIP: Use leashes, particularly for reactive dogs. They are usually shorter in length to keep your dog close and have “tangle-free” features.
3. Take a chill pill.
No, not you!
Dog behavior consultant Chirag Patel advises using calming aids like pheromone diffusers or wraps. These can help soothe your dog’s anxiety and make the vet visit more comfortable.
You might also consider CBD dog treats. I’ve personally had success with pumpkin-flavored ones that put Jax in a relaxed mood.
Discuss with your vet what’s best when considering aids that are ingested.
4. Vet your vet.
Finding a vet who understands and accommodates your dog’s anxiety is crucial.
I genuinely believe everyone emits their own emotional “aura” that animals can pick up. For example, my Chihuahua Jax is so calm around my brother-in-law, but when my sister comes into the room, he won’t stop barking.
A gentle and patient vet can make a big difference in helping your dog feel more comfortable.
5. Break a sweat.
Hill’s Pet Nutrition recommends giving your dog some exercise before the vet visit. A tired dog is often a calmer dog!
Even better, after a trip to the dog park, make an impromptu visit to the vet so your dog can sniff around and get acquainted.
Bam! Just like that you’ve associated the vet with even more happy associations!
6. Stay Calm
As Victoria Stilwell points out, dogs pick up on our emotions. If you’re calm and relaxed, your dog is more likely to feel the same way.
So, take a deep breath and reassure your pup that everything’s okay.
You can prepare yourself by asking important questions about any procedure and doing the above tips before you arrive at the appointment.
Remember, if your dog’s anxiety seems really serious, don’t hesitate to reach out to a dog training professional or vet who specializes in behavior.
They can provide personalized guidance to help your furry friend feel more comfortable and confident during vet visits.
Remember that every dog is unique, so it might take some trial and error to find the best strategies that work for your anxious dog.
Patience and consistency are key to helping your furry friend feel more at ease during vet visits.
If the anxiety is severe, consider consulting with a professional dog trainer or a veterinary behaviorist for more personalized guidance.