Friday, September 22, 2017
Making the Vet Visit Fear Free:
Part Two

Welcome to part two in the series about making the vet visit fear free. If you didn't catch part one I  recommend you check it out as there are tips you can use at home to help make getting to the clinic easier. This edition we will cover thundershirts, the use of sedation and tricks we use in the hospital to make our day and overnight patients more comfortable.

 You may be wondering what the heck is a Thundershirt?! The Thundershirt is a vest made to fit your cat or dog that is pulled snug with velcro attachments.  The snuggness applies an even pressure around your pet's mid-section and this has been shown to reduce anxiety in animals. The concept originated from the use of weighted vests and blankets in people and is also similar to the idea of swaddling a baby. In the animal world a similar concept is employed when using a squeeze shoot for cattle. It is called a thundershirt because one of its main uses is in helping dogs cope with thunderstorm anxiety.  It is effective at reducing fear in about 66% to 75% of animals, which I think is a pretty great result for something that is non-invasive and not pharmaceutical.  We can use a Thundershirt in a variety of ways to help pet's cope with their visit to the doctor. If your pet is anxious about their vet visits and needs to come in often, then purchasing a thundershirt to put on your pet before you arrive at the vet is a good investment. It can also be helpful for those pets that stuggle with fear at the groomer or during nail trims. We also have some feline Thundershirts in clinic that we use during exams to help make grumpy cats more amenable to our poking and prodding.
A cat wearing the Thundershirt

In Clinic
When patients need to stay with us in the hospital, whether for a day procedure or overnight due to an illness, we want to help make them as comfortable as we can. If you know your pet will be staying in the hospital for a planned procedure consider bringing a small bag of their regular food with.  Similarily a favorite blanket or toy can be reassuring for your pet.  Cats feel very safe when they are able to stay hidden which is why I will often build a small fort with towels for inside the kennel of our hospitalized cats.  This is another instance where we use our feliway and adaptil calming pheromones.  We spray the towels and blankets we place in the kennels with the species appropriate pheromones prior to introducing your pet into the kennel.  These seemingly small steps can all add up to a more pleasant day in the clinic for our pets.

The use of mild sedatives for patients who are extremely anxious in the clinic can be very beneficial.  When choosing sedation for our patients our first choices are drugs that are very safe and can be given by mouth at home. These drugs tend to be very well tolerated and we rarely see side effects. They do not completely knock your pet out but tend to "take the edge off" of their fear. They are also very cost effective. Some pet owners feel badly giving sedatives to their pets but it really does make the visit much less stressful. I don't think there is any reason to feel guilty about helping your pet manage their fear.  In addition, your veterinarian will be able to do a much more thorough examination and potentially perform needed treatments in a safe manner. If you feel your pet might be a good candidate for using a mild, oral sedative before their next visit please mention this when you call to book your appointment. A lot of owners are surprised at how well things go with the use of a very mild sedation or anti-anxiety medication.
An ear examination for a sore ear can go much more smoothly with the use of a mild sedative.
Photo courtesy of

It is always our goal to help make your visit and your pets visit more enjoyable while also giving the best medical care we can. Hopefully some of these "fear free" techniques can be tested out at your next visit!

thanks for reading
Dr Ingrid
Monday, September 11, 2017

Making the Vet Visit Fear Free

A lot of pet owners dread bringing their four footed companions for their annual veterinary check ups. Who can blame them? The clinic can be a strange and intimidating place for our pets. Add to that the fact that many pets, especially cats, are not accustomed to riding in their carriers or in the car and you can see why stress levels hit the roof, often before the vet has even entered the exam room.

 Fear and stress are common reasons owners give for not bringing in their pets for the regular vet care they know they need. It can also make things a lot harder on the clinic staff. We love your pet and don't want to put them through an ordeal anymore than you do. At Winrose we are working towards a fear free experience for your pet! This article will outline some of the things you can do to help make your pets more comfortable during their vet visits. I will also explain methods we use to decrease stress once you and your pet arrive at our clinic.

1) Treats, Treats and more Treats
Lets start with a simple one. Many pets have a favorite special treat. You can help us by bringing that favorite snack from home with you. In addition you can give a smaller meal than usual before your appointment so your pet is extra motivated (hungry) to get the treats. At the clinic we will break the treats into small pieces so that we can constantly reward your pet throughout their exam. If you happed to forget their favorite at home we often have Dr. Eichkorn's famous homemade liver treats on hand to make your pet feel welcome. When you are in the waiting room or waiting in the exam room dont hesitate to reward your pet with a treat. We want them to build positive associations with being at the clinic. Essentially we want your pet to remember "this is the happy place where I get lots of my favorite food".

2) Transportation
This one is aimed more towards cats but can also apply to any dogs that are nervous in the car or carrier. A big reason cats hate the car and their carrier is because they are not used to it. Help your cat get used to the carrier by leaving it out for 1 to 2 weeks or more before your visit. Some owners leave the carrier out at all times as an extra piece of cat furniture. This is a great idea. Leave the door open and put soft blankets inside. If you see your cat go into the carrier on their own, reward them with a treat. Some cats will even make the carrier into a regular sleeping spot. Similarly, if you can, take your dog or cat for some short drives around the neighborhood to help them get used to the car. If your pet experiences car sickness let us know. We have medications you can give prior to the car ride to prevent car sickness.

 Whenever you take your pet out in the carrier remember to carry it from the bottom rather than the handle. Holding it by the handle causes it to swing back and forth...not very pleasant for your buddy inside! Once you arrive at the clinic try to place your carrier some where that will keep your cat or dog from being face to face with other pets. If we have a room available we will take you right in so that your pet will have a private and quiet place to wait until your appointment. 

3) Pheromones

Have you heard about the use of pheromones before? Pheromones are special "scents" produced by animals and they can have a calming effect. The feline facial pheremone is a scent cats produce, which they use to mark things as their own, when they rub their face on an object. Only cats can detect this scent as they have a special gland to pick up on it. Studies have shown that the pheromone has a calming effect on many cats. We think this is because it signals to the cat that they are somewhere familiar. Dogs also have a pheremone we can use to help calm them. It is called the dog appeasing pheromone and is the scent that the mother dog produces as her puppies are nursing. Again only dogs can actually detect the scent. At the clinic we have these pheremones in our exam rooms and in the boarding rooms. They are dispersed through the air through plug in diffusers to help pets feel a sense of general well being. We also spray the pheromones on towels and blankets used by pets and even spray our lab coats with them!

 I also use a diffuser at home for my cat who is a particularly high stress fellow (I find it helps his inappropriate elimination but that is a story for another day). These pheromones can be used at home for pets with specific anxiety related issues. They come in spray bottles and the dog version also comes as a collar. Spraying your pets towel or carrier with their calming scent half an hour before departure can help make the car ride more pleasant. The dog collars can help dogs who deal with chronic anxiety. We carry both the canine and feline pheromones at the clinic. Ask one of our team for more information!

The feline facial pheromone is sold under the name Feliway. This is the room diffuser product

That is a great start on fear free veterinary visits. I have just scratched the surface so I will be sure to follow this post with part two soon. In part two we will cover thundershirts (a favorite of mine), keeping our in-hospital patients low-stress, as well as the use of mild sedatives to help pets with especially high anxiety in the clinic.
Thanks for reading and see you soon

Dr Ingrid