Vet clinics can be frightening for many dogs, confined spaces, scary sounds, strange smells and slippery floors. Even more so for dogs who have lived on the streets and had limited experiences of entering strange buildings and being handled by strangers. There are certain things we can do to reduce stress levels for our dogs.
Here are a few tips for those of us with rescued ex street dogs:
1. Educate yourself to recognise the sometimes subtle signs of stress in your dog. Some dogs will happily visit the vet, while others show signs of stress before you even get near the clinic door. It’s up to you to recognise how your dog is coping. Remember your dog is depending on you to communicate on their behalf. (Have a look at the group files section for articles on canine body language).
2. If you know your dog is frightened of going to the vet. Speak to your vet about this BEFORE your dog needs to go for treatment. Explain that your dog is nervous and ask if they are willing to work with you to make your visits less frightening.
Ask if it’s ok for you to bring your dog to visit the clinic at quiet times just to get them used to the layout of the clinic. On the first few visits you might not even get your dog inside to the waiting room. If your dog is relaxed about taking food, bring high value treats and if your dog has a confident canine friend, bring them along too. A canine companion can really help a nervous dog to relax. If you feel your dog would be relaxed about it, ask the vet and clinic staff to feed your dog treats. Be patient & gentle, it’s better to take your time than try to force your dog.
3. If your dog is really nervous, home visits are an option for some simple procedures. Home visits are often more expensive, but can avoid causing stress to very nervous dogs. Another option is for your vet to examine your dog in your car outside the clinic, or (if they have one) in the gardens of the vet clinic. So long as it is in a safe quiet area, being examined outside can be a lot less stressful for many ex street dogs.
4. If you have one nearby, a holistic vet clinic can often feel calmer and less intimidating for many animals. A holistic vet should be looking at the animal as a whole, and will often be very happy to consider a dog’s emotional needs. Holistic treatments such as homeopathy, acupuncture, herbal medicine and Bowen therapy can all work wonders for a nervous animal. Speak to your vet to see what options are available in your area.
5. When taking your dog to the vet please make sure they are wearing a secure harness and a collar with an ID tag. This may sound obvious, but every year many dog are lost or killed on the roads after slipping their collars and/ or harnesses when they are frightened. It’s often hard for people to understand how quickly a dog can back out of an average collar and harnesses. A harness with two belly straps such as the Ruffwear Webmaster is a good option as the second strap prevents the dog from backing out. Also be aware that a determined dog can (silently!) chew through a fabric or leather lead in seconds, so keep your eyes on your dog and use two leads if necessary.
6. When visiting the vet clinic for your appointment, take a piece of “non slip” vet bedding with you. Make sure the vet bedding is familiar to your dog and that it smells like home. If the room is small, ask the vet to move the examination table to one side before you enter and place the vet bed on the floor. Being examined on a safe, familiar non slip surface is much nicer than being lifted onto a scary table. If your dog needs to be admitted to the clinic, ask if you can provide your own veterinary bedding or even one of your own t-shirts to reassure your dog.
7. Ask your vet to approach your dog in a gentle manner. If your dog is a “foodie” dog and relaxed about taking food from people, getting the vet to feed your dog some high value food can work wonders. At the very least, ask your vet to allow your dog to sniff them and relax for a few minutes before any hands on examination starts. If necessary and the clinic is often busy, book a double appointment so you have more time.
8. Vet clinic waiting rooms can be really stressful for many animals. If the waiting room is crowded, try to have one person sit in the waiting room, while the other person waits outside with the dog until you are called in. If the waiting room contains a dog or person that is intimidating to your dog, politely ask if the person can move to one side to let you pass. Some vets may even allow you to enter via a side or back exit.
9. If you take a friend with you, make sure they understand the need to be calm and patient and that they understand your dogs needs and fears. The last thing you need is a grumpy or impatient “helper.” If your dog has complex health problems, make a list of things you want to ask the vet so you don’t forget anything. Try to keep calm yourself so you can focus on reassuring your dog.
10. If your dog is happy being touched by you, while you are at home, try to get her used to you gently touching her legs, feet, ears, tail, looking in her mouth, feeling along her spine and her belly. Proceed with caution, be gentle, be aware of your dog’s body language and stop if she looks stressed. Take note of any sensitive areas as your dog may be in pain.
If your dog is happy with being touched, you can proceed to gently recreate the motions of what might happen at your vets, for example when a blood sample needs to be taken or other common procedures.
Be gentle, reward your dog and again be aware of her body language and signs of stress. When your dog is happy for your to do the above you can ask a close friend or family member to gently examine your dog. Again very slowly & gently and being very aware of your dogs her body language and signs of stress.
For more details please see Katie Scott-Dyer / LoveDogTraining’s article on “Husbandry” and “Body Handling” in the files section of the group.
11. If you feel your dog might bite out of fear when being examined at the vets, while you are working to resolve this, it’s worth taking time to get your dog used to wearing a muzzle. If done gradually and gently it can make examinations at the vet a whole lot quicker and less stressful for everyone including your dog. For more information on helping your dog to get used to wearing a muzzle see:http://muzzleupproject.com/resources/
12. An Adaptil (canine pheromone) collar or spray can help to calm your dog at the vet clinic and while travelling. Other options include Rescue Remedy drops or spray and homeopathic remedies. (To find your local homeopathic vet in the UK search here: http://www.bahvs.com/find-a-vet/) also lots of info on veterinary homeopathy at http://www.alternativevet.org/ )
Once at the vet you can gently massage your dogs ears & neck or perform T-touch moves. A “Thundershirt” can also help to calm your dog,
13. If your dog needs to be admitted to the vet’s clinic for a general anaesthetic ask your vet if your dog can have their procedure carried out early in the day. This will minimise the amount of time your dog will spend feeling anxious before the anaesthetic . If your dog is able to walk ok, one option is to have the pre op check at the clinic, get the vet to give the dog their pre op injection, then take the dog outside for a gentle walk until the pre op meds take effect. Then you can return to the clinic and leave your dog when they feel more relaxed and likely to sleep.
14. Some ex street dogs can be wary of food and water bowls so please make sure your vet is aware of this if it applies to your dog? Clinic staff may need to hand feed your dog or move out of sight of your dog before s/he will eat? Water may need to be given in a cupped hand, in a smaller container or gently by syringe. Vets often use a dog’s keenness to eat or drink as a marker for them to be well enough to go home, so it’s important that your vet is aware of this.
15. If you know your dog doesn’t react well to a certain medication or the manner in which the medication is administered please communicate this to your vet. There are often alternatives drugs available for pain relief and other medications.
16. For post op recovery, inflatable “Comfy Collars” can be used as an alternative to the traditional depressing lampshade collar. Thundershirts, Medical Pet Shirts or even a regular t-shirt can also be used to protect a wound. If your dog needs to be kept closely confined following surgery baby gates or dog pens linked together can be a kinder alternative for dogs who are stressed by crates.
Finally, although vet clinics have their set ways and routines (for good reason) please remember it’s perfectly ok to politely request that your vet accommodates your dog’s special needs. Most vets are happy to work with you if you explain your dogs needs.
If your vet is not helpful, then you might want to think about finding another vet who is willing to work with you? Veterinary clinics are probably never going to be your dog’s favourite place, but careful preparation can at least allow you to get vital medical care with the minimum of stress.
©️ Caring for Rescued ex Street Dogs