Ask the Veterinarian: Stress

Ask the Veterinarian

By Dr. Brianne Hagerty, Avery and Bjorn

3 AM. Uncomfortable in your own skin, your brain categorizes, calculates and analyses every thought, worry and feeling you’ve had for the past 24 hours. Eyes stuck on the digital clock, watching the neon green segments appear and disappear as they form each number, 0 through 9 over and over again. There are not enough sheep in all of Scotland to count to sooth your brain when you are stressed. We have all felt this crippling anxiety at some point in our lives. Our pets feel stress too, but shouldn’t have to experience it every time they go to the vet. Maybe we’ll still be counting sheep tonight, but let’s work on helping your pet cope better with their next visit.

Before Your Appointment

Before you even book an appointment, work on making experiences and memories that encourages your dog to want to pull you into your veterinary clinic not shy away from it. Many clinics welcome their patients to come in for a cookie and a quick hello. This allows your pet to associate good things with the clinic, and begin to build a relationship with the support staff and your vet. Walk by the clinic on your daily walks if you can and make it routine. Simple steps can change your dog’s mind about their next trip to the clinic.

Feline Friends

The carrier; A dark foreign box, smelling of new plastic and strange places which lacks the inviting openness of a cat bed or open parcel box waiting for exploration. Stored away and only taken out when its “time to go to the vet”, means there is an expectation to be stuffed into the box immediately, no questions asked, and with no hope of exiting until arrival at the mysterious home of the “vet”. Unlike our canine companions, traveling, carriers and car rides have often not been instilled as “fun” into our feline’s minds. Instead the only time they are expected to travel results in a stressful trip to a new house, new home or the vet.

Making the carrier a part of the landscape and a new place to take a nap or find a hidden treat goes a long way. Desensitization to the idea of being in a carrier is the first step. This can be expanded on with short car rides around the block, returning home to a favourite canned food or toy. Additionally, cats use pheromones to mark familiar objects and communicate a sense of calm to other in the area. We can attempt to mimic this by using products like Feliway®, a synthetic copy of the cat’s facial pheromone, which may help create a sense of familiarity or security in the cat’s environment. Make sure the carrier has a soft towel or blanket inside and depending on the style of carrier, draping a thin towel over the carrier can make it quieter and more secure.

In the Waiting Room

Waiting room etiquette is a little bit like gym etiquette. We all know that if there is a row of treadmills you don’t pick the one next to the only other poor guy running his heart out. Similarly if you see a grey haired elderly grandmother carefully navigating the weight room, you don’t start doing dead lifts, complete with grunting and dropping the weight dramatically next to her. If you have a cold and you sneeze, sanitize those dumbbells you just picked up or better yet keep away from others. Similarly, try to spread yourself out in a waiting room to reduce pet interactions and stress. Respect elderly or very ill pets and realize that they may not wish to be greeted by the enthusiastic rebellious puppy. Keeping pets on leash helps to reduce the spread of disease and some clinics may ask you to wait outside or keep your pet in the car until the time of your appointment depending on what your pet may have going on. Cat’s can often find it even more stressful when their kennel is placed on the floor at ground height with dog noses, shuffling feet and a menagerie of smells. Placing the carrier on a chair next to you can help.

Timing is everything; some days and some parts of the day can be hectic at a clinic. Just like the gym when there isn’t a square inch of space to put your yoga mat down and every piece of cardio equipment (including the unwanted lone elliptical in the corner) is in use. If you have a nervous pet or one who doesn’t like interactions with other pets, picking an appointment to reduce the hustle and bustle in the clinic may help. For example the first appointment of the day may be ideal or ask your clinic if there is a quieter time they can recommend. Some clinics may also offer separate waiting areas for cats and dogs or a schedule to separate them. For example James Bay Veterinary Clinic offers “Tabby Tuesdays” in which we currently are booking felines in generous time slots on Tuesdays. This reduces the smells, sights and sounds of dogs in the clinic for our cat friends.

White Coat Syndrome

It’s okay, a lot of people hate going to the doctors, dentists, any medical professional and also sometimes your veterinarian. Don’t worry this doesn’t offend us. These setting can cause increased stress and anxiety in some individuals, which can even transpire physically. White coat syndrome is a well-documented phenomenon observed in humans who exhibit an elevated blood pressure level only when in a clinical or medical setting, due to anxiety. We are all aware that some pets also find going to the veterinarian a very stressful encounter and we take steps to make them feel more secure and find it a positive experience, however the owner of the pet plays a major and often over looked role.

Being aware of our own anxieties around a situation will help our pets. If we hate doctors or needles or the sight of blood we are likely emitting these emotions to our pets. Try to relax, speak softly and lower your own blood pressure while in the waiting room or exam room. Some pets may even feel more relaxed, less protective and more confident without their worried owners in the room. It’s always okay to ask to step out or have someone else help hold your pet in the room if you think that it will make the situation less stressful. Veterinary assistants and technicians are well trained at the art of being a surrogate Mum or Dad for the visit.

In our daily lives we are endlessly faced with stress. Take a moment to realize how this stress may affect both our own physical and mental health, as well as our pets. How can we reduce everyone’s stress today?

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