NJ animal hospital creates “Happy Visits” for anxious patients

dvm360dvm360 June 2021
Volume 56

Mount Laurel Animal Hospital recently developed this special approach of care to help improve patient experience and cooperation at veterinary visits.

dog at mount laurel animal hospital

Saffron (left) who once experienced traumatic stress symptoms upon veterinary visits, is now all smiles, thanks to happy visits. (Photo courtesy of Mount Laurel Animal Hospital).

Mount Laurel Animal Hospital’s (MLAH) primary care team now offers “happy visits,” to encourage both positive association and cooperation for pets during vet visits.

The new service was established in response to concerned pet owners who experienced many roadblocks when bringing in their pets for a visit. According to an MLAH release, happy visits promote positive emotional learning associated with location (parking lot, exam room, scale), instruments (stethoscope, needles), and team members.

"Happy visits are designed to reduce stress and establish trust and positive experiences with patients. With happy visits, we have seen an appreciable difference in an animal's well-being during routine exams,” says Erica Sweigard, VMD, MLAH's lead primary care veterinarian, in the release. “Performing basic routine care becomes less stressful for the patients, their owners, and the entire veterinary team."

These special visits are conducted using counterconditioning by pairing a pleasure-inducing interaction such as eating treats, with an interaction that previously caused fear or anxiety. Happy visits also involve training pets to comfortably wear a muzzle or Elizabethan collar (if necessary) when handling.

Veterinary visits can be stressful for some animals as unfamiliar people, sounds and smells can incite negative reactions for anxious pets. Before his recurrent happy visits—MLAH patient Saffron—experienced traumatic stress symptoms upon entering the site, resulting in muzzle use and physical restraint.

"Now, with the happy visit approach, Saffron loves coming to the vet and being able to take treats and lay down calmly for his exam, vaccines, and a blood draw. It's like he's a different dog," says his owner.

Learn more about MLAH’s happy visits and other services here.

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