How We Can Make the Vet Office a Less Scary Place for Pets

I believe many pets at veterinary offices think they are going to die.

Imagine being hung halfway out a window by your suspenders 30 stories up, or being held up at gunpoint. That’s actually how I believe many of our pets feel at the vet office, or even before they arrive, as they realize that’s where they’re headed and fear begins to ramp up.

Yet everyone, from pet caretakers and veterinary professionals, has pretty much accepted the status quo forever. Pet owners expect their pets to “hate” the veterinarian.

In 2017, it’s my resolution to communicate how we can do better, as I am a part of two initiatives in veterinary medicine which are succeeding at shifting the paradigm within the ranks of the profession. My job is communicating to all of you how we can all make a difference as pet caretakers – and ultimately the outcome is that our pets receive better pet health care. And the upshot is that we will also save pet caretakers money.

If the pet is anxious, the pet's owners and the veterinary staff become anxiety ridden too. And that anxiety grows like a snowball. Often anxiety isn’t the word for it – lots of pets are so petrified they likely do fear for their lives.

According to the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Studies (Bayer Animal Health/Brakke Consulting), 38 percent of pet owners suggest their dog HATES going to the veterinarian, 58 percent report their cat HATES visiting the veterinarian.

Think about yourself; if you’ve a bad shopping experience at a department store, you’ll likely be stressed out even thinking about the place, and you’re not likely return. You might give the place a poor Yelp rating, and tell your friends how awful that place is. The good news is that our pets rarely email others, but they do yelp, and cry and feel terrified.

According to the Bayer/Brakke studies, 28 percent of dog owners say just thinking about a veterinary visit is stressful, and nearly 40 percent of cat owners agree.

I suspect those numbers would be significantly higher if we could ask the pets how they feel about the return visit.

I conducted a simple YouTube search of videos of pets fearful of visiting the veterinarian, and there were hundreds of examples. In each instance that I clicked on the play button, pet owners considered it all a funny joke, or at least to be expected that their pets would be afraid, even terrified, of their doctor and nurses. The Fear Free and Cat Friendly Practices initiatives are set to change these expectations.

Instead, by years’ end, I hope to see a balance of YouTube videos with home movies of cats head-butting contentedly on the vet exam table, and dogs taking cookies with a vaccine like we do cream with our coffee.

Lots of us have been out there talking about ways to reduce fear, anxiety and stress of vet visits for years. Dr. Marty Becker has combined many of our ideas and approaches into an initative, more really like a crusade, called Fear Free. The idea is to support and promote considerate approach and gentle control techniques used in calming environments at veterinary offices. And it’s absolutely catching on.

And talk about having courage of a lion – the American Association of Feline Practitioners has essentially said, it’s on us veterinary professionals to do better for cats. We need to make some real cat friendlier changes, called Cat Friendly Practices.

As much as I support and admire these efforts, I don’t know how veterinary professionals can do this alone. I believe that both initiatives, Fear Free and Cat Friendly Practices, begin in homes. And I resolve to communicate directly to pet caretakers on the significant difference you can make for your pets this year into 2018.

First. When pets enter the vet clinic totally terrified, shaking like a leaf, dogs panting without being able to catch their breath, cats seemingly screaming for help, no matter how Cat Friendly or Fear Free the office is - short of medication (which may be the right thing to do at that point), or sending the pet back home - there's no way to relax the animal at this juncture, as the adrenaline and cortisol levels are spiraling out of control.  That’s why having pets walk in the door without feeling fear, anxiety or stress is so important. And that effort begins in homes with pet caretakers. That’s right, all of us with pets are now a part of the medical team because a pets’ emotional is as important as the pet’s physical health.

Some say, “Pet owners are too lazy to bother to participate.” I totally disagree. The overwhelming majority of pet caretakers consider their pets members of the family; they care, and they want to do what’s best for them.

Fear Free and Cat Friendly are both incredibly exciting initiatives which will change the way we feel about veterinary care, and most importantly the way our pets feel.

Steve is a certified animal behavior consultant, and the author of several books, including ebooks “Good Cat!” and “Good Dog!” He’s a co-editor of “Decoding Your Dog” (by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists” which Victoria wrote the foreword. He’s the host of several radio shows, including nationally syndicated Steve Dale’s Pet World, and can be heard on WGN Radio, Chicago. He has a long list of TV credits., from Oprah to Animal Planet shows, including his current appearances on “HouseSmarts TV. He serves on several Boards, including Winn Feline Foundation.
His website/blog:

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Positively Expert: Steve Dale

Steve is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant, has written several books, hosts two nationally syndicated radio shows, and has appeared on numerous TV shows including "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "National Geographic Explorer," and "Pets Part of the Family." Steve’s blog is


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