How to Prepare Your Dog for the Vet
Trips to the vet can be scary for dogs and stressful for owners. However, with a little training and planning, you can help keep your dog relaxed and well-behaved during vet visits. In addition to keeping its anxiety in check, you might need to fast your dog or follow other pre-appointment instructions. On the day of the exam, try to stick to your dog’s normal routine, and have its favorite treats handy to keep it calm in the waiting room.
Teaching Your Dog Not to Fear the Vet
1. Teach your dog a “touch” cue so it won’t fear an approaching hand. Stand near your dog and present your open hand to it. Wait for it to investigate your hand; when it sniffs or touches its nose to your hand, offer a pea-sized treat and say, “Yes! Good dog!” Place your hand behind your back for a few seconds, then present it again and wait for your dog to sniff it.
- Repeat the sequence until your dog approaches your hand whenever you present it. Once it starts approaching your hand consistently, say the cue “Touch!” whenever it moves to sniff your hand.
- When your dog responds to the command reliably, stand further away from it so it has to walk several steps to get to your hand.
- Dogs reflexively back away from approaching hands. The “touch” cue can help your dog form a positive association with being touched. Try having the vet say the cue and touch your dog’s nose before they start the exam.
2. Reward it with treats as you handle its paws, mouth, and ears. Gently lift your dog’s lips so you can see its teeth, look in its ears, and feel its paws. Encourage it to remain calm with lots of verbal praise, and reward good behavior with its favorite treats.
- It might resist at first, but try to have patience. Offer praise and a treat as soon as it behaves calmly. If it seems stressed out, take a break and try again in 20 or 30 minutes.
- Don’t scold or punish your dog if it resists being touched. Your goal is to teach it that it can earn a reward if it tolerates being handled. Punishing it could encourage it to form a negative association with being examined.
3. Give your small dog a “pick up” cue if it doesn’t like being picked up. If your dog isn’t used to getting picked up, teach it a cue instead of picking it up all of a sudden. Say “Pick up!” before you pick it up, and reward it with praise and a treat. Put it back down after a few seconds, then keep practicing until it seems comfortable with being picked up.
- If you have a small or medium dog, the vet or vet tech will most likely pick it up and place it on an examination table. Being picked up and placed on a high exam table might be unsettling, so practice for it ahead of time.
- If you have a large adult dog, the vet will likely examine it on the floor, so you don’t need to worry about picking it up or putting it on a table.
4. Practice setting your dog on a table. When your dog tolerates being picked up, pick it up and place it on a table. Praise it and give it a treat to let it know the table is a good thing. Put it back on the floor after a few seconds, and repeat the exercise until your dog doesn’t seem anxious on the table.
- Start table training with a low, sturdy coffee table or ottoman. Be sure to hold your dog to prevent falls, and be on guard in case it tries to jump.
5. Get your dog used to standing on a scale. If your dog is small enough, practice placing it on a bathroom scale. Reassure it with praise and reward calm behavior with a treat. To encourage it to get on the scale willingly, hold a treat over the scale and give a cue, such as “Up, up!” or “Place!” When your dog walks onto the scale to get the reward, say “Yes!” and give it the treat.
- A scale moves slightly and might stress your dog out when the vet weighs it.
- Don’t force your dog to stay on the scale or scold it if it resists. Have patience, encourage it with praise and treats, and try to get it to stay on the scale for gradually longer amounts of time.
- If you have a large dog, use a towel or mat to teach it a “place” cue. You might not be able to replicate the feeling of a tipping scale, so reassure it with high-value treats and plenty of praise when it’s weighed at the vet’s office.
6. Make a social visit to the vet’s office before your dog’s appointment. For your dog’s first vet appointment or its first time seeing a new vet, ask the office if you could stop by for a social visit. While the vet might be busy, the receptionist and vet tech will most likely be able to say hello to your dog and give it some treats.
- Ask about making a social visit when you schedule the appointment or at some point before the appointment. Find out when they’re usually slow, and try to stop by outside of peak hours.
- The vet’s office will be familiar with social visits. They might even recommend stopping by before the actual appointment so your dog forms a positive association with the office.
- You can also fill out any new patient paperwork at the social visit.
Getting Ready for the Appointment
1. Ask the vet if you should fast your dog before the appointment. Some vets instruct owners to withhold food for 6 to 12 hours before an appointment. Fasting is required for some tests and procedures. The vet might advise it just in case they have to order blood work or an x-ray.
- If you’re not sure if you have to fast your dog, call the office before the appointment.
- Provide fresh water at all times, even when fasting your dog.
2. Collect a stool sample if the vet requests one. If necessary, collect the sample within 12 hours of the appointment. Pick up your dog’s stool with a plastic doggie bag, then place the doggie bag into a tightly sealed plastic bag or container. Avoid touching the stool, and wash your hands after collecting the sample.
- If you collect the sample the night before the appointment, the vet will likely recommend that you refrigerate it. Clear the bottom shelf of your fridge so you can keep the double-bagged sample as far away from food as possible.
- Clean the shelf with a mild bleach solution after removing the sample from the fridge.
- Call the vet’s office before the appointment if you’re not sure whether they need a stool sample. If you’re not comfortable collecting samples, ask them if you can coordinate your dog’s potty walks with the appointment so a vet tech can collect samples.
3. Collect a urine sample if the vet asks for one. Whether your dog is male or female, collecting a urine sample can be tricky. The best time to get the sample is when your dog’s bladder is full, such as during its first walk of the day. Ask the vet to provide a sterile specimen jar, or get one at your local pharmacy.
- For a male dog, wait for it to lift its leg, then place the container under its urine stream. For a female dog, wait for it to squat, then quietly slide the container under its rear end.
- Do your best not to get urine on your hands and, if desired, wear latex or vinyl gloves. Wash up thoroughly after collecting the sample.
- Call the vet’s office and ask if you need to collect a urine sample. If possible, collect a fresh sample within 1 hour of the appointment. Otherwise, refrigerate the sample for up to 12 hours.
4. Organize your dog’s medical records, if necessary. Gather your dog’s vaccination history, rabies certificate, a list of its current and past medications, current diet, and any x-rays or other records. Bring these to the appointment if it’s your dog’s first vet visit or its first time seeing a new vet.
- If you’re taking a puppy to the vet for the first time, you’ll probably only have the vaccination record from the breeder or shelter. Puppies generally get a vet exam within a week of birth and receive their first vaccinations within 6 to 8 weeks.
Reducing Stress in the Waiting Room
1. Stick to your normal routine on the day of the appointment. Keep your dog’s anxiety levels in check by feeding it, walking it, and doing other regular activities. Your dog will likely suspect something’s wrong if you change its normal routine.
- A brisk walk can also help it burn off energy, which might help it stay calm at the vet’s office.
- Remember to check with the vet about fasting and any other instructions. If you can’t feed your dog breakfast, do other activities, such as walking and playing, as you normally would.
2. Keep your dog calm with high-value treats or a favorite toy. Bring your dog’s favorite treats and toy to the vet’s office. Reward calm behavior with praise and a treat. If it pants, barks, growls, yelps, or shakes, distract it with the toy and give it a treat as soon as it calms down.
- If your dog knows basic commands, try having it practice sitting or lying down in the waiting room. Practicing commands can help distract and calm your dog.
3. Reassure your dog with calm body language. Bringing your dog to the vet can be stressful for owners, too. However, try not to be nervous or act like you’re worried. Take deep breaths and think about something that’s funny or calming.
- Practicing commands and playing games with your dog could be good distractions for both of you.
- Routine check-ups can be stressful, but taking your dog to the vet for a health issue is frightening and overwhelming. As tough as it is, do your best to remain calm. Remind yourself that keeping your emotions in check will help comfort your pet.
4. Let the office know in advance if your dog is fearful or aggressive. If necessary, call the office ahead of time and tell them that your dog is anxious or doesn’t tolerate being around other animals. Most vets have experience handling fearful or aggressive pets. The office will most likely be able to work with you to ensure your visit is as stress-free as possible.
- For example, try to schedule the appointment when the office isn’t busy.
- Instead of sitting in the waiting room, you might be able to wait for the vet and vet tech in a vacant exam room.
- If a vacant room isn’t available, ask if you and your dog can wait in your car or walk around the block. Have the office call or text you when an exam room is available.
- When teaching your dog commands, break treats into pea-sized pieces. Since training involves several repetitions, you’ll need to use small food rewards to keep your dog’s calorie consumption in check.
- Aim to train your dog for 15 to 20 minutes per day. If it gets antsy, try training it in 5 minute sessions throughout the day.
- Have your dog wear a lead collar or harness to the vet’s office if it’s prone to leash pulling. That way, it won’t hurt itself or escape its collar if it resists entering the office.