Behavior Tips: Fear of the Veterinary Clinic

By: Jennifer Posern, LVT

El Paso, TX

Published September 2014

While many of us couldn’t imagine life without our pets, sometimes our best friends have habits that we could definitely live without. Begging, barking, inappropriate elimination, chewing, digging, fear biting…and the list could go on and on.

Your Veterinarian: A Possible Resource

There are thousands of resources available to pet owners to help with eliminating bad pet habits. Books, training DVDs, obedience classes, television shows—it’s hard to know where to turn. Many people forget to include their veterinarian and clinic staff as resources for resolving pet behavior problems; use them! They have devoted their lives to making every aspect of the pet-owner bond healthier and happier, including extensive training in pet behavior. A discussion of current behavior issues and possible solutions should be a part of every routine physical examination. While veterinarians and their staff members are valuable resources and can advise on and assist with almost any unwanted behavior, there is one behavioral issue with which they are directly involved: fear of the trip to the veterinary clinic.

Fear of the Veterinary Clinic

The day of a veterinary appointment is stressful for many pet owners. Their sweet, lovable companions seem to undergo a personality transformation when the clinic door opens. Suddenly leashes are being pulled out of their hands, accidents are happening in the waiting room, kitties are cowering in kennels and emotions are running high. It can take hours or even days for life to get back to normal after a trip to the veterinarian. The stress affects everyone involved, including pets, owners and clinic staff. While it’s not a fear a pet faces daily, if a pet fears the veterinary clinic, it will likely be a long-term issue.

The Solution to Overcome the Fear of the Veterinarian

Nobody, pet or owner, should live in fear of a visit to their veterinarian. The solution is often simple: Visit more often, and for no reason at all. Consider that, in your pet’s mind, every time you visit your veterinarian, something happens! Shots, nails trimmed, surgeries—all of these are necessary to maintain health but are often not fun for the pet. Owners and veterinary staff members can work together to change this perception in pet’s minds. Visit your veterinarian’s office for no reason, and bring along treats so the veterinarian can feed them to your pet. Bring favorite toys, and let your pet play in the walking area with an assistant. Bring a book or magazine and just sit with your pet in the waiting room, and then let your pet get a goodbye ear scratch from the receptionists. Check your pet’s weight on the clinic scale and then finish up with a belly rub. Let good memories, praise and affection build up in your pet’s mind between the not-so-fun visits.

Many owners will be hesitant to ask for help on this issue. They think the staff is too busy for simple things like this or that they won’t be welcome if they are not there for an appointment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Remember, everyone at your veterinary hospital is there because they love and want to help pets, and there is nothing more heartbreaking for them than realizing that pets don’t love them back! Everyone in the veterinary clinic knows the value of establishing a friendly, trusting and comfortable relationship with you and your pet, and they will love being included in the good moments.