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April 2011 – Training Talk: Preparing Your Pet for the Vet

Preparing Your Pet for the Vet

Many of us go to the doctor knowing what to expect and how we will need to do to prepare for depending on the purpose of the visit. How many of us prepare our pets for their veterinary visits?

It may seem silly to let the animal know what is going to happen when they come into the clinic, but how many of our pets like having complete strangers feel their tummy and look into their ears and eyes with funny instruments? A few simple handling exercises will help your pet have a better time with his examination, have it be less scary at the clinic, and help you relax as well.

Let’s start with our dogs:

Beginning when they are puppies, they will have a lot of visits to their friendly veterinarian, so let’s start with some positive experiences. When you arrive at the clinic, make sure your puppy stays with you and doesn’t wander around. Many of dogs are there because they don’t feel well, and because it is a higher stress area for a lot of dogs, they may not all be in the best of moods. Play it safe; ask if your dog can meet another one before letting them say hi.

Bring your puppy in with some soft, small treats and maybe a little squeaky toy. Play with him in the lobby while waiting for your appointment. Let people come and say hi to him, and give them a small treat to give to your puppy. Practice handling your pup’s ears and body when at home before your visit.

Hugging your puppy close to you, waiting for the pup to relax, and telling him “good boy” or rewarding while hugging is a good way to practice a restraining hug. Our clinics practice “minimal restraint”, which is to say they use as little restraint as possible with our patients, but it is good practice to have your puppy relax when being held versus being squirmy and unmanageable.

The next steps are to be sure you can look into your puppy’s mouth and see all of his teeth, and practice handling your puppy’s feet and legs. Not only is this a good way to get him ready for nail trims, but it is a way to check for overall health as well. If the handler remains calm and happy, your pet will pick up your cues and remain calmer as well.

Dogs do not thrive on coddling like small children do; a dog sees this as his owner being unhappy and nervous, so he should be unhappy and nervous as well. If you puppy is upset, remain calm, use long soothing strokes to pet, or give him something else to do. A more mature dog that is nervous may be asked to sit and receive some pats or a small treat. Don’t be upset if your dog does not want treats at the clinic, a nervous dog is like a nervous person and may not want to eat. Take a treat with you, and when he relaxes outside, let him know what a good boy he was and reward him then.

So let’s review:

Restraining hugs – Holding the puppy or dog close to your body until he relaxes, and then he gets rewarded.

Handling paws – Make sure you really hold them and handle each toe and in-between. Play with his nails and touch his paw with the clippers to get him used to it. If you are going to use a nail file or electronic grinder, get the puppy used to the noise. Reward often during these exercises.

Mouth – Gently open your pup’s mouth and run your finger over his teeth. This will also get him used to it for teeth brushing.

Ears – Handle your dog’s ears, rubbing around the inside gently with a cotton ball. Massaging the outside base of the ears is also a very relaxing touch for dogs, so you can start with that before being invasive.

Now let’s address our kittens and cats:

First and foremost, if your cat is not comfortable traveling in the car or going to new places, I would recommend getting them used to a carrier. There are many different kinds on the market, so go with something convenient for you to carry and comfortable for our cat. Making sure the top be easily removed can also be a helpful feature once your cat is comfortable in his carrier and needs to be taken out at the vet.

Just as we train a dog to get used to a kennel, we can do the same for our cats. Leave the carrier in a convenient spot in the house and let the cat get used to it being there. Next sit next to it and lure your cat over with a yummy treat. Drop the treat right inside the carrier and let him poke his head in to get it. Continue to drop treats further and further into the carrier until the cat is all the way inside. Do this in as many sessions as it takes to have the cat comfortable.

Once he is comfortable going in and eating a treat, try feeding him his dinner in there for a couple of days in a row. Now we are ready to actually close the carrier and leave it closed for a few minutes. If we train this slowly but surely, the cat will get used to it, not be stressed going in it, and make his trips much more enjoyable. The big difference between training a dog for a kennel and a cat for a kennel is that the cat’s kennel moves, which makes it a more stressful environment, and then to take the cat to the clinic with all of the smells and noises makes it even more stressful to the animal.

You also need to be able to handle your cat or be aware that if you can’t handle him, the veterinary staff will also have a more difficult time. Being able to handle all parts of your cat, looking at his teeth, touching his paws and ears are all the same as with the dogs. Touch and reward when starting these procedures and make it a pleasant experience for your cat.

Two of the ways a technician will hold a cat for the veterinarian to examine. The first is a hug to the body while scratching the cat’s neck or ears. The second is scruffing the extra skin around the neck.

I hope some of these tips will better prepare you for your visit to the clinic. Please ask our staff about our training program if you have any questions.

Mary Pollard is a graduate of the University of Illinois where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Companion Animal Science. She has been training dogs since 1987, and has competed in obedience, conformation, agility and therapy classifications. She is a member of the National Association of Dog Obedience Trainers and past member of the Delta Society Pet Partners and Therapy Dogs International. To reach Mary you can email:, or call the Oberlin location where Mary frequently teaches day-schoolers at 919-832-3107.

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