De-stress your fraidy cats


Nervous pets are often problem pets during office visits. Here's help.

With a few simple steps, you can ease pets' anxiety and turn a stressful visit into a pleasant experience for everyone, says Kathy Coffman, a veterinary assistant and rehabilitation specialist at Veterinary Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Group in Ellicott City, Md., and the 2007 Firstline MVP, sponsored by Virbac's C.E.T. University. Coffman, a certified canine rehabilitation technician and certified canine massage therapist, offers these tips to help calm your nervous Nellies.

1. Minimize stressors

Consider the elements of a practice visit that might frighten pets and annoy clients. Then do your best to minimize or eliminate those less-than-ideal experiences.

For example, to reduce disruptions, Coffman suggests separating your canine and feline patients or quarantining the nervous ones using potted plants to divide the waiting area. And invite unruly pets and their owners to wait in an exam room. Also consider pets' comfort. Using a big throw rug in the waiting room may help dogs that struggle to maneuver a slippery floor.

2. Channel your inner Buddha

Your energy, tranquil or tense, can influence a pet's performance, so move slowly and project a sense of calm when approaching patients and their owners. A few deep, cleansing breaths will help you regroup and send a message to Nellie that there's nothing to fur ... err, fear.

However, if Nellie's protective of her owner, even meditation may not help. Try to remove the source of distraction by politely asking Ms. Hooversabout to hand over her precious pooch and wait in the reception area.

3. Appeal to the pet

Struggling to examine a frightened pet is often distressing for both you and the animal. To put Nellie at ease, interact at her level. "With dogs, I sit on the floor, and I pet cats in their carrier or in my lap," says Coffman. "Since cats like to hide, I sometimes wrap them in a towel. Then I talk to the owner, allowing the patient time to relax."

Coffman also suggests conducting the exam on the floor, using the waiting room throw rug for pets to stand on. If you're using a stainless steel table, lay a towel down first.

4. End on a good note

Rewarding Nellie with a delicious treat, regardless of her behavior, means she'll associate veterinary visits with something scrumptious, rather than scary.

Coffman keeps a variety of high-quality treats on hand to accommodate even the pickiest eaters. Dogs remember Coffman's yummy treats, often sprinting to the exam room at their next visit. Usually, her finicky feline patients take treats as well.

Nervous pets can disrupt the schedule—and the practice. But these small gestures will help you get the jump on pets' jitters and calm anxious pet parents, too.

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