Lets face it, going to the doctor can be a scary experience, even for people who know what to expect and have some idea of the benefits that will ensue. I myself didn’t go to the Dentist for a very long time when I was younger because I simply didn’t like having someone poking around in my mouth. So it is perfectly reasonable to assume that our pets might experience, fear, anxiety and stress when they think that they will be going for a car ride and then end up at our hospital. We want to try to change that.
Caledon Mountain Veterinary Hospital’s staff are Fear Free Certified meaning they have undergone special training to recognize situations that might create bad feelings for our patients and correct them, or better yet, avoid them completely. There are a multitude of parts of a veterinary visit that can cause anxiety for pets and some of them start with the process of getting ready at home. Often our pets are very sensitive to routines and any change can let them know that something is different.
A different leash, a carrier that is only brought out for vet visits, a missed breakfast for a procedure that requires fasting- all of these can start building fear, anxiety and stress well before our patients even leave their home. One thing that you as pet parents can do to help with this is to try to reduce the amount of disruption to the routine in advance of the visit:
- Use the same leash, get the carrier out a few days before and leave it out
- Follow the same morning routine if possible and supplement a few minutes of cuddling instead of feeding.
In cases where anxious behaviours are encountered or we have procedures to do that may cause anxiety like an x-ray, a blood collection or preparing for surgery, we will commonly prescribe medications to be given on the day of the procedure. We have found this to be very effective for our patients and helps everyone involved – the pet, the parent and our staff.
So what else can we do?
In some cases, natural sourced products can be given to help reduce anxiety
- We have a pheremone called Adaptil (dogs) or Feliway (cats) that has been shown to decrease stress in animals when they smell it. There are sprays, wipes, diffusers and collars (dogs only) that can be used in the environment to decrease stress. We have these in the rooms of our hospital but can also dispense them for at home use.
- We also have a natural sourced milk protein powder called Zylkene that can be given with food in advance of stressful events and has been shown to reduce anxiety. These products can be used short term or long term for ongoing anxiety and are great as they have no side effects. However, the effects of these are mild and in some situations we may need more powerful anti-anxiety treatments
For patients with higher levels of fear, stress, and anxiety, or those requiring more invasive treatments we utilize pharmaceuticals:
- Gabapentin is a pain medication that we use routinely for our patients that are experiencing discomfort from injury, surgery or arthritis. One of it’s side effects is that it can cause some sleepiness, and we often use this in advance of visits to our hospital to have a calming effect on animals. A higher dose is used for calming than for pain and it is often prescribed to be given a few hours before a visit in order to have some time to work before the visit.
- Trazodone is an anti-anxiety medication that we prescribe to pets because it has a calming and sedating effect. This medication can be used to keep animals quiet after surgical procedures so that they don’t injure themselves, but it is also commonly prescribed to be given (with or without gabapentin) before a procedure to have a calming effect. The combination of these two medications can be quite effective at reducing fear, anxiety and stress in even the most anxious patients and helping the visit to the hospital be more pleasant for everyone.
Lastly, for patients experiencing severe stress or for procedures that are more involved or require patients to be relaxed for extended periods of time (such as an ultrasound), we have the option of using injectable sedatives in the hospital. This would be at the veterinarians discretion and after a full assessment of the patient, but often these treatments are used in conjunction with the at home preparations listed above.
This summer I had a personal experience with the use of these medications when my senior mutt, Kajun, had to travel to the cottage. In his old age, Kajun has developed anxiety about long car rides but the combined use of an Adaptil collar and the medications gabapentin plus trazodone in his breakfast before we travel let him rest easy as we headed north and allowed me to rest easy knowing that he wasn’t stressed about the trip.
Our primary concern here at Caledon Mountain Veterinary Hospital is the comfort of your furry friends. The use of various anti-anxiety techniques or products is just one more thing that we can do to help give them a better experience at our hospital. If you think that your pet might benefit from any of these suggestions, please feel free to contact our staff to discuss the option that is right for you.
That’s all for now; oh, and please remember – you may be anxious about your pet’s visit to the hospital as well, but the medications go in the dog bowl, not in your morning coffee 😉
– Dr. Rob