Improving Veterinary Visit Experiencies
The last decade I have seen a dramatic increase in attention paid to the behavioral needs of animals. This is wonderful – I see animals as having a depth of communication that is different from humans, but still varied and rich. In the past, vet clinics usually focused on handling techniques in order to administer vaccines or draw blood. We are moving away from using physical restraint as it can cause fear. We are changing our approach in order to focus on fear avoidance and relationship building. With a well socialized pet, providing a highly favored treat or toy distraction allows veterinary staff to accomplish many smaller procedures. What complicates this process is fear. And even more problematic is when fear manifests as aggression towards owners or veterinary staff.
I would say that the last 3-5 years we shifted our approach even further. We realized that even if patient anxiety doesn’t manifest as aggression, we didn’t want our patients to feel apprehension when at the clinic. We have cookies in the rooms, a cat tree and catnip for our feline friends, and if you didn’t know, we rarely use those cold metal tables any longer. When in the exam room, I spend most of my time on the floor getting at the level of my patient and trying to engage in a calm and unthreatening manner.
Despite our best efforts, some patients are too fearful to even tolerate a procedure as simple as a vaccine. When a food motivated animal is too scared to eat, we are disappointed. Our hearts go out to those patients. Even when they lunge and growl, we know that this is because they are scared and need our help. We have two approaches for these patients.
Oral sedatives can work wonders. I offer these regularly to my clients. There are a variety of options, no one medicine or combination will work for every animal, and it does take a little trial and error. The great part about making the choice to sedate your pet before the fear builds, is some pets will adapt to the experience and reach a point of not requiring pre-medication before visits to the clinic. Since pets can learn when unstressed, giving a medicine to minimize fear will sometimes allow pets to accept that favored treat, allowing us to build a relationship that otherwise was inaccessible.
A handful of patients will still come in untouchable even on oral sedatives. When this is the case, the sooner we address it, the better. The solution is injectable anesthesia. I get resistance from clients when discussing injectable sedation for pets. It is generally safe for both the animal and staff. Since we have been more proactive about jumping to injectable sedation, I really have seen some patients adapt to veterinary visits the same way I see it for oral sedatives. This is most important is for procedures that are minor, but still painful. My best example would be a bad ear infection (although I could easily list a dozen). That damaged skin barrier hurts, and I imagine how scary it would be to have someone put a foreign object in your ear canal.
I want clients to understand that an offer of sedation from your veterinarian means you probably have a caring veterinarian. The pets physical and emotional comfort is at the core of that request. There are no “bad” or “evil” pets, they are usually scared. Let’s help them feel their best.