This article was originally posted on the AAHA website.
A visit to the veterinarian can be stressful for pets. Unfamiliar smells and sounds, unfamiliar hands poking and prodding you with strange objects, and other animals possibly experiencing pain or fear surrounding you—all tend to make pets feel uncomfortable or fearful.
“Pets experience the white-coat effect just like people do and can become more anxious just by walking into the veterinary hospital... or even just being in the car,” says Dr. Heather Loenser of Crown Veterinary Specialists in Lebanon, N.J., and a member of the AAHA Board of Directors. “Vets know this, and during the exam we often find higher heart rates and blood pressure than we would if we were sitting at home on your couch with your pet.”
One of the best ways to acclimate your pet to the veterinarian’s office is to occasionally stop by for a brief visit just to say hello. Call in advance to find some good times to drop in. Make these visits part of your pet’s socialization experience. A well-socialized pet gets along calmly, confidently, and without fear or too much exuberance. Dr. Loenser says, “By stopping by to visit me, without anything being ‘done’ to your pet, except getting some snuggles and treats from my staff and me, my hospital will soon be like a second home to him.”
Dr. Wendy Hauser, veterinarian and member of the AAHA Board of Directors, says, “I love 'happy puppy visits.' We recommend all puppy owners make a point to stop by at times other than scheduled appointments for multiple reasons. It is a great positive experience for the puppy to come in and get lots of attention and a treat. Additionally, it gives us the opportunity to weigh the puppy and record the data in his or her health record. We can then stay abreast of those puppies who are not growing well (or too well!) and provide nutritional advice. Finally, it helps bond the owners more tightly to our hospital. My team enjoys the visits. After all, who doesn't love a puppy and a happy owner?”
Both Dr. Hauser and Dr. Loenser also encourage us who have adult pets to drop by for a friendly veterinary visit. For example, Dr. Hauser recommends monthly weight checks for overweight pets, especially since more than 50 percent of dogs and cats are overweight. Dr. Loenser adds, “With levels of obesity skyrocketing, it can be difficult to compare your pet to your neighbor's to see if he's on track for weight loss. Instead of comparing apples to oranges, having your pet reliably weighed on the same scale can let you know if your pet is reaching his goals. Even losing a few pounds can have significant benefits for many pets and that can be very hard for you to detect. It's not like his pants will suddenly start falling off!”
These friendly visits will actually improve your veterinarian’s ability to accurately measure your pet’s health. For example, when a pet’s heartbeat or vital signs are elevated due to stress, Dr. Loenser says, “This can make it difficult to for us to know if these parameters are abnormal from the ‘stress’ of being in our presence or if they are true indicators of diseases (pain, heart disease, etc.).” Dr. Loenser adds that when a pet’s vital signs are elevated she might need “to run some tests to see if your pet has underlying issues (X-rays, ultrasound of the heart, rechecking blood pressures, etc).”
In addition to helping your pet, these friendly visits will benefit you as the pet owner. They’ll make you more confident and calm, which will reassure your pet, calm her, and boost her confidence. They’ll help to keep costs down because a veterinarian won’t have to order additional tests to make sure those elevated vital signs aren’t due to a problem. Dr. Loenser says, “Think of how much time and money could be saved if your pet is so comfortable in my exam room, that his vital signs mimic that which you'd see if he was watching TV with you at home!”
Having an open, trusting relationship is also beyond monetary measure. Dr. Loenser advises, “Especially when you are faced with serious health issues, knowing your vet as a human being, not just a person in a lab coat, will create a bond that will only increase in strength as you walk the path of your pet's final years.” Next to your family and your veterinarian, Dr. Loenser adds, “There is no one out there who understands more why your pet is important to you.”
It helps us to also see it from our veterinarian’s perspective. Here is valuable insight from Dr. Loenser: “We give up time with our family, vacation days, and financial rewards to stand beside pet owners and their furry companions on the pathway to health. Nothing enriches a veterinarian's life more than being a trusted member of your family. We love the Christmas cookies, graduation notices, homemade sweaters, invitations to speak at your children's career day, and all of the other benefits of being part of the village that is helping you raise your family, both two- and four-legged. Please stop by and get to know us. We'll both be glad that you did!”