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Let's Make Coming To The Vets Less Stressful

At Roundwood vets, we understand that taking your beloved companion to the vets can be very stressful. Sadly we can not have a conversation with them, explaining the importance of these visits.

Some patients who visit their veterinary practice seem to take it in their stride and even enjoy the fuss, while others get overwhelmed.

That's why we do everything to try and keep you and your companion's stress levels at bay. Hopefully, this will make the trip to the vet easier- and your pet a lot happier (just like Medusa pictured below).

Fear can trigger many responses, and the main ones we see are the four F's: fidget, flight, freeze and fight. Like humans, this is their natural response to a traumatic, scary situation, and the four F's are there to try and protect themselves.

Your companion may not display all of these behaviours but will likely show at least one. That is why it is important to be able to trust your vet practice to understand the telltale signs of fear. We want to help reduce some of these responses every time they set a paw in the clinic.

The four F’s seem self-explanatory- but let's dive deeper.

Fidget may not be one you have heard as much, but it is one we see a lot.

Fidgeting is a sign of stress. It is also a way for your little friend to try to calm themselves. Signs of fidgeting can be:

  • Jumping up excessively

  • Increased panting

  • Hyperactivity

  • Highly distracted (to the point often that they can not eat a treat)

  • Frantic play behaviours such as a switch from a play-bow to a jump

  • Edginess and hypervigilance

  • Generally, they find it very hard to settle

These behaviours are all telling us that this animal is very anxious. By behaving like this, they are trying to displace the stress. It is like they are trying to shake the stress out.

We also mentioned that some animals try to calm themselves down. Signs of this can be:

  • Walking away

  • Sniffing

  • Paw lift (slight lift of the paw, loose, not stiff)

  • Lip licking (when not hungry)

  • Yawning (when not tired)

  • Overgrooming such as scratching (when not itchy)

  • Purring

  • Hiding under blankets or just about anything they can find

These signs must be picked up on and not misread as signs of relaxation. People see grooming as being soothing, but this is not always the case. They are doing these behaviours to distract themselves from the fear- like how some people may twiddle their hair around their fingers to try to calm themselves.

The next F is flight. This response can be dangerous if your companion tries to take flight before or even during their visit. This is why at Roundwood vets, we ask all our patients to be either wear the correct size and fit collar/harness with a suitable lead or be carried in a carrier. If this is something you might think you need help with, please let us know. We are more than happy to help you pick the right gear to ensure they are safely secure when coming to the vet.

This flight response is them trying to get away from what is scaring them. We see this a lot in practice- so it is important not to drag or force them to do something they do not want to. That is why we take great care in our nurse socialisation clinics to help try and show your companion that this is a safe place and that coming inside means treats and lots of praise.

Freeze is the next stress response. This response can be advantageous for us. It is learned helplessness done in the hopes that if they stay still long enough- we will leave them alone. It can be very distressing to see. The signs are:

  • Immobility

  • Stillness

  • Stiffness

  • Walking very slow and deliberate

Another often misread learned helplessness sign is when dogs roll on their back and show their belly. This, in the context of a vet visit, usually means they are scared and are trying to appease us.

These behaviours can lead to the next fear response. When an animal, like humans, feels like they are not being listened to, and their control is gone, then their fight response can kick in.

Dogs, cats and other species can be labelled ‘bad’, ‘nasty’ and ‘aggressive’. These labels benefit no one and aren't true. These animals are scared and in their head fighting for their lives- they do not understand we are here to help.

Fight response behaviours to look out for are:

  • Growling

  • Hissing

  • Loud meowing

  • Snarling

  • Barking

  • Lunging

  • Forward motion towards the scary thing

  • Biting

  • Piloerection (hackles raising)

  • Tail raised, stiff and over the tail base (in some cases, the tail might be doing short vibrations or flicks)

  • Ears up and forward

These behaviours are exhibited in a desperate attempt to distance themselves and the scary situation/person/species or object.

We must remember not to ignore or tell off our animals for barking, hissing or growling, as this is them communicating with us and giving us a fair warning that they are feeling fearful and under pressure. If we keep telling them off or ignoring the signs, then next time, they may bite straight away as they have learnt they are not listened to.

A good idea for nervous dogs that need a little bit of space is getting a lead/collar and or harness that says NERVOUS. People will read this and understand that this pup needs a little bit of space and time. It can be such a helpful visual cue. In the photo, you can see Bob can be a little anxious when being in a new place or with people he doesn’t know. In the photo, you can see his nervous lead and bandana to give people that visual clue.

It is so important for the welfare of our companions to educate ourselves on their individual personalities and needs. To learn what certain behaviours mean and how we can help resolve negative emotions they may be feeling.

This is why we run socialisation classes and ask our staff members to complete further learning in this area. We want you both to feel listened to and cared for, to make your visit as enjoyable as possible.

Below are some handy tips that our caring nursing team has put together on what you can do to help your pals on their next visit to the vets.


Starting at the basics, let's talk about getting them into the clinic.

First, get them to walk past the building for a couple of days- so they know the area they are in. All the different smells and noises can be very overwhelming.

When walking past the clinic, get them to stop and sit with some treats and rewards. Let them sniff the door and investigate the area! When you think that they are starting to become more confident with just walking past and having a sniff, give us a call, and we can arrange a time for a nurse to come to the door and greet you and your pup with a treat or two.

We don’t have to make these interactions long- just a quick hello and a treat will do.

The next step is booking a short visit inside the vet clinic with a nurse and some of our clinical care team. We can make it as quick as you need. We know that you are as nervous as your pup in this scenario, but we are here for both of you.

To begin with, we will choose a time at the clinic when it can hopefully be quiet- focusing all our time and energy with your pup, seeing how they respond, what areas we need to work on and how we can help with that stress they have from coming to the vet.

These sessions can help build up the confidence of your pup as well as trust. Sometimes we go backwards, and that's perfectly fine- we just adjust and carry on. A Lot of this needs to be practised outside the clinic too.

We can help as much as we can, but we need to remember that this is a learning curve, and it won’t magically get better overnight. But that's the beauty of these clinics, they help us build up trust in all areas, from your pups to the clinic.

Once you attend these clinics (at least once a week), let your pup have a day to relax and adjust. It can be a lot of work coming to and from the clinic, so taking them to the park for a quick play can help!

Giving them a safe space to relax and rest is always important. Like when you teach your pet how to sit, you need to give your pet breaks and plenty of rewards! Although going to the vet can be a scary experience, we want them to feel happy inside our walls. That's our goal.


Cats have a second sense when it comes to the vet- they know the moment you book that appointment.

For cats that don’t like coming to the vet, checking that you have the right cat carrier is important. Is it too small? Is it broken in any way? Do they have some bedding inside? Some toys?

Just like us, sometimes they need a comfort tool. Having the carrier around for a few days before the appointment can help, leaving it open with some treats inside. We recommend keeping them inside the carrier the night before the appointment, so they can’t slip away.

You can also talk about medication prescriptions with the vet if going will trigger more fear responses. We can also discuss different types of diffusers and sprays to make this visit less stressful. Having a blanket to put on top of the carrier can also help.

We want to make these trips to the vet as stress-free as possible. So if you have any input on how we can do this, let us know.

Here is Ella’s story

Ella came into us as a nervous, fearful puppy.

She was very attached to mum and hid behind her legs- not even our delicious treats could lure her out. We could see that this was a very stressful situation for Ella, and we wanted to gain her trust.

We enrolled Ella in our socialization classes with our nursing team. This involves coming to the clinic once a week for 4-weeks. In these sessions, we aimed to build trust and boost confidence.

We started slow, just sitting on the ground, giving her treats and letting her come to us when she felt comfortable. We did this in the reception, as this is an open area, and we did not want Ella to feel trapped.

Taking things at her pace, she slowly began to venture over to us and take some treats. We slowly began to move further and further away from mum (though she always returned). She was building up the confidence to venture that little bit further. We always rewarded her with treats (liver paste being her favourite) as positive reinforcement. It helps when you have a dog who is very food driven!

After some time, we would gently stroke her when giving her treats. Ella always had the option to remove herself from the situation if she was not happy, but over time, we were able to touch her feet, ears, legs etc. We built up her trust to a point where the vet could do a full-body examination in the future.

We asked mum to bring her favourite treats and toys with her- as these are familiar things that she enjoys. We also placed things like stethoscopes, thermometers and muzzles on the floor. We wanted to ensure that Ella knew these were not scary; so she would not develop negative associations.

Over time, Ella’s mum told us that she would get super excited walking towards the clinic, knowing that when she went inside she would get endless attention and treats. We could see Ella grow so much over the weeks, from a puppy who reluctantly came in the door to a puppy who bounced in, tail wagging.

The last time Ella was in was the most rewarding. We took Ella away from mum (something we had not done before), and she completely exceeded our expectations. She was happy to just sit with and jump on Kenzie (one of the nursing team), giving Kenzie a good face wash. It was amazing to see how happy and comfortable she was with us. And mum was super proud too. This was a major step forward for Ella.

Here's what Ella's mum had to say …

'She is such a changed dog, still a work in progress, but everything you have done for her and us as a family should be shared and celebrated.'

If you have any questions regarding socialization, please feel free to contact the clinic.

Order Dr Hannah Parkin's Amazing Guide To Caring For Your New Puppy.
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