Help! My Dog Hates Going To The Vet!
Advice from a vet (who doesn't take it personally).
Taking your dog to the vet regularly is a pet parent must.
But that can be super tough if your pup absolutely hates going there.
Well, there are a bunch of things you can do to make those vet visits easier on your BFF (and on you, in turn).
The Dodo spoke with Dr. Andrea Y. Tu, medical director at Behavior Vets in New York City, who explained why dogs hate the vet, and what you can do to help.
Why dogs hate the vet
There’s really one big reason why your dog hates the vet: he’s afraid of them!
“Dogs can become afraid of vets for multiple different things,” Dr. Tu told The Dodo. “It’s often a place where they have something slightly uncomfortable and slightly weird happen to them.”
If you hate going to the doctor, or even the dentist, then you feel your pup’s pain.
Not to mention, if it’s your dog’s first time at the vet, then the environment is totally new to him, which is scary enough on its own.
“Other things that can cause the dog to be afraid of the vet are other sensory inputs that we don’t really appreciate as humans,” Dr. Tu said. “Dogs can smell, for instance, another dog [that was just] there releasing stress-related pheromones.”
In fact, your dog’s sense of smell is so crazy good that, according to Dr. Tu, he might even be able to smell blood on a needle in a waste bin from a draw that happened hours ago.
And since your dog isn’t the only pet who needs medical attention, he’s going to be around other animals, which could also scare him.
“If the dog is afraid of other dogs, and you are sitting in a waiting room with all these other dogs who are yapping and barking and making a lot of noise, that can also be scary,” Dr. Tu explained.
Any — or all — of these reasons is enough to get your dog to associate the vet with bad things, and ultimately make him hate going.
How your dog can always seem to tell he’s going to the vet before he gets there
Ever notice that your dog always seems to know he’s going to the vet, even though you were sure that you didn’t give it away?
Well, your dog can actually pick up on even the tiniest hints.
“[He could pick up on] our body language [or] our cues,” Dr. Tu explained. “We may act differently or dress differently when we’re taking them to the vet, versus taking them out to a hike.”
So although you wouldn’t even dare to spell “v-e-t” in front of him, your pup will probably still figure it out and get nervous.
“Dogs are really attuned to those really detailed body language changes … so they may be able to put those pieces together and generalize,” Dr. Tu said.
How to help a dog who hates the vet
If your dog really hates the vet, you’ll really be helping him out by taking him to the right vet.
“One of the biggest things that I would recommend is you look for a vet who is really well-versed in behavior stuff, or is really fear-free, or is committed to a gentler approach to animals,” Dr. Tu said. “There are a lot of things veterinary staff can do to help prevent these scary associations from forming.”
A fear-free vet will focus on giving your dog the care that he needs, while determining whether or not the scary procedures are really necessary during his visit.
“This involves ... recognizing things like body language, and doing things on a need versus a want determination,” Dr. Tu explained.
Basically, if your dog is just in for a routine visit but he’s super afraid, a fear-free vet might decide that using a rectal thermometer (which can be an invasive and scary thing for your pup) is more of a want than a need, and just skip it during that visit.
Obviously, if your dog was sick and a temperature reading was necessary to determine just how sick he was, your vet would go through with it, even if your pup was afraid.
There are also things you, as a pet parent, can do to make your dog not hate the vet so much.
“You might need to take your pet to the veterinarian’s office a few times for happy visits [only],” Dr. Tu said. “You might have to pay for some visits in which you only get certain things done and come back for another visit, [so you’re breaking] up the big visit into smaller visits.”
That might be a little tougher on your wallet, but it’ll help make sure your dog has memories of the vet’s office from when he wasn’t so afraid.
“Those little things can help get your pet on a better path as far as emotional health, and ultimately better overall health,” Dr. Tu explained.
But if your dog starts getting aggressive at the vet, that’s when you’re going to want to seriously consider getting him some medication.
“Aggression in a vet clinic is because of fear. It’s not because they want to be mean or nasty,” Dr. Tu said. “[For] patients like that, the best solution really is to use chemical assistance, whether that is an oral medication the pet takes at home before they come in, or an oral medication before they come in plus an injection they get when they come in.”
As a pet parent, you might be hesitant to medicate your BFF, which is totally fair. But in this case, it could actually be the best thing you could do for him.
“With vet visits, if your pet is already scared, any time they experience a scary encounter, that fear is further reinforced,” Dr. Tu explained. “It is safer for the animal’s wellbeing to have a little bit of medication, so they don’t have to go through that fear or stress.”