You've seen the cartoons where the dog looks bug-eyed when the veterinarian comes into the room with a thermometer or the terrified cat in the carrier. Many people don't even bring their pet to the veterinarian because they had a bad experience or become aggressive during an exam. This isn't good for the pet, owner, or the veterinary staff!
Since opening, Four Lakes Veterinary Clinic has worked hard to make our practice an inviting, calming, and low-stress place for owners and pets alike. We became a Certified Cat Friendly Practice soon after we opened and recently completed training to be designated a Fear Free Professional practice. Those titles sound pretty good, but what do they really mean?
From the moment you make an appointment, we work with you to make it as stress-free for your pet as possible. We will email you a "What to Expect" letter and ask you to bring your pet hungry to their exam. A hungry pet is more likely to take treats from us, making the visit more enjoyable. We get to be the "good guys!" If your cat doesn't like its carrier, we recommend putting the carrier in your living space for at least several days before the vet visit. Make the carrier inviting with a cozy blanket, and feed your cat there. We can provide you with a Feliway wipe to rub on the inside of the carrier to provide a calming scent during the trip. We want your cat to know the carrier is his "safe space."
If you have never been to our practice and know that your pet tends to be anxious at the vet, please schedule a "meet and greet" exam. We want you to bring your dog (or cat) in for treats, pets, and a quick step up on the scale. We may have you take your pet into the exam room and get more treats and pets. We will chat with you and then send you on your way. No exam, no nail trim, no vaccinations. We just want these visits to be fun and pleasurable to your pet! We want your pet to see us as "the friendly people who give me treats or scratch me on my cheek," rather than "that scary person that always hurts me!"
The first thing a dog or cat sees upon arrival is the reception area. We try to get the dogs and cats into their respective exam rooms quickly. We don't want your cat scared by a dog sniffing the front of the carrier or your dog to react to another dog.
We have a designated dog room and cat room. Each room has a pheromone diffuser - Adaptil for the dogs and Feliway for the cats. These pheromones are maternal scents that are calming to other dogs or cats. Humans can't smell them, but many of our patients respond favorably to them. There is also calming music specifically designed for cats or dogs that we play in the rooms.
We try to let cats relax in their carriers for a little while and have the cat venture out on its own. It is scary to be pulled out of a carrier! If the cat is more comfortable in the carrier, we will remove the top and let the cat sit in the bottom (so having a carrier with an easily removed lid is very helpful and lowers the stress for your kitty!) We have towels on the exam tables to provide a soft, warm surface--no cold stainless steel. Some cats want to explore their new environment and will climb on the cat post to get up high, where they feel most safe. Some cats prefer to curl up in the sink; the examination can often be done wherever the cat is most comfortable!
We use lots of treats to distract our dog patients--it is the rare dog that doesn't like at least one of our treat offerings! There is a towel or non-slick pad on the exam table to provide better footing. If a dog is showing anxiety as one part of the body is being examined, we will take a break and move on. Some dogs get more worried with blood draws from the front legs, so often we will give them a treat to lick while blood is drawn from a back leg.
If you have had bad veterinary (or doctor or dentist) experiences, your pet will pick up on your anxiety. Some dogs are very "clingy" or protective of their owner. Sometimes these pets will do much better if we take them to our treatment room for blood draws or nail trims. Please don't be offended if we recommend trying it with your dog; I wasn't allowed to hold my children for their vaccinations because they squirmed too much!
Even with all our efforts, there are some dogs and cats that are still too anxious to be examined. Rather than continuing to elevate the pet's stress, making the next visit an even worse experience, the dog or cat may not get their exam and vaccines that day. Instead we will discuss different anti-anxiety medications to use before the next visit. If the dog or cat "overrides" the effects of the anti-anxiety medications, often the best option is full sedation. This allows a thorough physical exam, nail trim, and vaccines without any pain or stress to the pet. We can often use a reversible sedative, so the dog or cat doesn't remember anything that happened and walks out of the office with her owner.
It is the goal at Four Lakes Veterinary Clinic to take the "pet" out of petrified! It is helpful to know if your pet has had a bad experience at another hospital. If there is anything we can do to make the visit easier on your or your pet, please let us know in advance of your visit.