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Using Positive Reinforcement Techniques to Help Your Pet Learn to Love the Vet

Visiting the vet can be a daunting experience for our furry friends. The unfamiliar smells, strange faces, and sometimes uncomfortable procedures can make a trip to the vet a stressful event for your beloved pet. However, it doesn't have to be this way. By using positive reinforcement techniques, you can help your pet learn to love the vet and make their healthcare visits a positive and less anxious experience.



Understanding the Fear of the Vet

Before we delve into the positive reinforcement techniques, it's essential to understand why some pets develop fear or anxiety associated with vet visits. Fear can stem from various factors, including previous negative experiences, the anticipation of pain or discomfort, unfamiliar surroundings, or even the reactions and pheromones released by other animals at the clinic.


Recognising the signs of fear or anxiety in your pet is crucial. These may include trembling, panting, trying to escape, hiding, or even aggressive behaviour.


Some dogs will also show fear as 'appeasement' signs such as licking you, jumping up, urinating or showing signs of submission, such as laying on their side and showing their belly. Their ears may also be back towards the head, they may avoid eye contact, lick their lips and have a hunched body posture with the tail down. At later stages, dogs will start to vocalise and may bite.


In cats, they will also initially avoid eye contact, and their ears will also move back towards the head. Their pupils may dilate and their whiskers may move back. Their body may flatten with the tail tucked in, sometimes flicking. At later stages of fear, cats may start to hiss and lash out with their claws.


Addressing these signs proactively is the first step in helping your pet overcome their fear of the vet.


Positive Reinforcement: The Key to Success

Positive reinforcement is a training technique that rewards your pet for exhibiting desirable behaviour. By using treats, praise, and other rewards, you can motivate your pet to associate the vet clinic with positive experiences, gradually diminishing their anxiety.


Introducing the ‘Basket’

Positive reinforcement starts at home. For cats, the 'cat basket' is often associated with negative experiences and between uses is usually kept out of sight. Improve your cat's relationship with the cat basket by keeping it in your cat's normal environment, filling it with bedding sprayed with a calming spray such as Pet Remedy, or cat pheromones such as Feliway. Putting some treats or toys inside will also help encourage your cat to use the basket as a bed.




When bringing your cat to the veterinary practice, keep the journey as calm as possible. Cover the basket with a light sheet or towel (again sprayed with Feliway or Pet remedy ) to prevent your cat from seeing out. Carry the basket from underneath, to improve the sense of security to your cat, rather than using the carry handle. If using a car, place the carrier in a secure place such as a footwell, and play low-volume classical music to create a sense of calm.


Remedies

Similarly with dogs- keep visits calm. Pet Remedy or dog pheromones such as Adaptil can also be used to help keep them calm- sprayed in the car or worn by the dog on a bandana.


Over-the-counter supplements, for example, Calmex, can be useful in some pets to help reduce stress prior to a vet visit.


Some pets may require anti-anxiety medications before their visit- speak to your vet about this.


Familiarisation and Desensitisation

Familiarisation and desensitisation can also help dogs. Begin by bringing them to the vet clinic for short, non-invasive visits that do not involve examinations or procedures. Let your dog explore the waiting area, reception desk, and examination rooms at their own pace. Reward them with treats and praise for calm behaviour during these visits.


Counter-Conditioning

If your pet already associates the vet with fear or anxiety, it's essential to change this perception. Start by pairing the vet visits with positive experiences. For example, give your pet their favourite treat or toy before, during and after a vet appointment. Over time, they will learn to associate the vet with enjoyable moments.


Create Positive Associations

Every step of the vet visit should be associated with positive experiences. Encourage your pet to hop on the weighing scale or examination table with treats, allow the vet or nurse to pet and interact with your pet gently, and reward your pet for their cooperation during the examination.


Obedience Training

Teaching your pet basic obedience commands, such as "sit" and "stay," can be immensely helpful during vet visits. These commands allow you to keep your pet calm and under control, making the process less stressful for both you and your furry friend. However, be aware that many pets will not perform these commands when under stress


Gradual Exposure

Gradually expose your pet to vet-related experiences, such as having their ears and feet touched, and if safe, checking their mouth and teeth. Start with less invasive procedures and work your way up. Always reward your pet for their cooperation and bravery.


Consistency and Routine

Consistency is key when using positive reinforcement techniques. Make vet visits and associated training a part of your pet's routine. The more often they experience these positive interactions, the more likely they are to become comfortable with them.


Choose the Right Vet

Selecting a vet who is patient, gentle, and experienced with fearful or anxious pets is essential. A compassionate vet will understand your pet's needs and work with you to create a positive vet experience.



Conclusion

Helping your pet learn to love the vet is not only beneficial for their well-being but also for their overall health. Regular vet visits are crucial for maintaining your pet's health and catching any potential issues early. By using positive reinforcement techniques, you can transform the vet clinic into a place of comfort and security for your furry friend.


Remember that every pet is unique, and it may take time for them to fully embrace the vet experience. Be patient, stay consistent, and celebrate even small victories along the way. With your love and support, your pet can learn to not only tolerate but genuinely enjoy their visits to the vet, ensuring a lifetime of good health and happiness.


Want to start saving money each time you visit the vets? Join our Vital Pets Club today and start saving. Find out more here.



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