22 tips for calmer petsand pet owners

August 30, 2016
Portia Stewart, Editor, Team Channel Director
Portia Stewart, Editor, Team Channel Director

Portia Stewart is a pun-loving editor who spends her days arguing the differences between cats and commas (commas are a pause at the end of a clause, while cats have the claws at the end of the paws). She is a minion to two cats and a dog.

"Just get it done" doesn't pay off in the long run. Instead, slow down and reduce the potential for pets' fears.

CVC Speaker Mikkel Becker, CPDT, offers these tips to take the "pet" out of "petrified." Consider these ideas to help create a calmer experience for pets who visit your veterinary practice.

Manage the pet owner

• Keep the pet owner calm. Pets are really in tune with how people feel. It's a good idea to practice deep breaths with pet owners at the beginning of a visit. 

• Tailor the visit to the pet. Some pets (and owners!) may be more comfortable waiting outside or in the car instead of the waiting room. You can also take pets directly back to the exam room so they can acclimate before the visit starts.

• Give the pet space. Some pet owners have a tendency of hovering and hunching over the pet, which can send negative signals to the pet. Sometimes it helps to tell the pet owner to ignore the pet. Other times, it's better to give the pet owner a job to do such as having the pet owner play with the pet with toys or offer treats or easy cheese during an exam.

• Ask the pet owner to step outside the exam room if necessary. If the pet owner's too nervous, it's often better to ask the pet owner to leave the room. Try to avoid taking the pet to "the back" so the pet doesn't need to acclimate to a new, foreign space.


Manage the pet's experience

• Spritz a bandana with pheromones and lavender to help calm anxious dogs.

• Let the pet approach you first.

• Pay attention to the pet's constantly changing body language.

• Ask pet owners to bring the pet in hungry. Then offer small portions of high value treats (such as Kong spray, easy cheese, deli meat or pea-sized bites of cheese) before, during and after procedures to relax the pet.

• Watch the pet's footing, especially for bigger pets who may become anxious or slip. Slipping is scary.

• Keep one hand on the pet during the entire exam. This minimizes the surprise they may feel if you keep touching them suddenly.

• Try to minimize scary sounds in the practice, such as nails on the floor, dog tags jingling, doors opening and people walking around. You can use classical music or music collections designed for cats and dogs. A towel under the door also helps to muffle sound. 

• If dogs enjoy performing their tricks, you can trade treats for tricks

• Tell pet owners to give dogs opportunities for fun car rides to other places besides the veterinarian. 

• Use treats to train dogs to step onto the scale, and place a nonslip mat on the scale to prevent slips. 

• Help pet owners-and their dogs-embrace muzzle training before you need to use them in the exam room. 


Extra tips for cats

• Warm towels in a baby incubator or by tumbling in the dryer for a few seconds. Cats crave warmth. Just remember, you need to use clamps to secure towels to the table.

• Turn the cat's carrier away from the exam room door for a less scary view.

• You can lure kitties onto the scale with catnip, but make sure to ask if catnip has a calming effect on the kitty first. Treats, toys and petting may also work, depending on the cat.

Leaving a trail of treats to the carrier and feeding the pet in the carrier are great ways to acclimate cats to their carrier. Your goal is to make the carrier more like the cardboard boxes cats crave to sit in. Make sure pet owners use comfortable bedding or the pet's preferred sleeping substrate to make the space appealing. 

• Don't use the carrier's handle. Instead, carry the crate like a fragile Christmas present.

• You may use a cover to partially cover the carrier. Allowing the cat to hide is helpful.

• Remember that cats like to get high. Creating spaces for them to climb in the exam room, such as a cat climber, will create a friendlier experience.