My dog hates the vet. What can I do to make it less stressful?
Original Question: Hi I have a 10-year-old Maltese who will get very stressed when it is time for the groomers and the vet. He is so bad that he will even poop on the way in the car and will even bite. What can I give him to help him relax? So worried about his heart it beats so fast. PS. He will not take pills. Thank you." - Linda
Thanks for your question. I know there are a lot of dog owners out there with the same problem. Maltese are usually the sweetest little dogs, but any dog pushed to his or her limits of stress can act out. This can manifest as urinating and defecating as you described, hiding, avoiding, panicking and even growling or biting. Vets encounter such behaviors on a daily basis. We understand that not all pets are happy to see us. We do our best to work with them so that everyone stays safe, but obviously it is not ideal to work with a pet that is terrified.
There are definitely some things that you can do to make the situation less stressful for dogs at the vet. One option would be to try to expose him to the situations in which he gets upset gradually and with positive reinforcement. This may involve taking him in the car and not going to the vet or groomer – say just a quick trip around the block. Repeating this would, over time, help him to be less scared in the car, because it would not always be followed by a stressful event. You can also consider visiting your vet’s office or grooming salon without having an appointment. This way, he may start to understand that these places are not so scary. You can give him his favourite treats or have the staff give him a treat as a way to make him more comfortable. This process will take a long time and many repetitions, so is not ideal for a quick solution, but can be helpful long-term.
There are also some medications and supplements that can help dogs that have anxiety in certain situations and is another way to get your dog not to hate the vet. There are a variety of pheromone sprays and supplements available through your veterinarian that can help to calm your dog in preparation for a stressful event. These work best for mild-moderate anxiety, especially in conjunction with training and positive reinforcement as described above. For more severe anxiety problems, adding a prescription medication may be necessary. There are many types – some work best for short-term use, and others, for long-term use.
Your veterinarian will be able to guide you in selecting the most appropriate medication for your dog. You mentioned that your dog won’t take pills – which makes things a bit tricky. Sometimes we have to be sneaky and hide the medication in a delicious treat or canned food, which generally works for most dogs. Alternatively, some of the products we use for anxiety may be available in liquid form, or can be compounded into a liquid at a compounding pharmacy if giving your dog a pill is out of the question. There are definitely lots of options and I hope that this gives you some ideas to help your nervous little guy.
Dr. Kim Hester
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