Every time I visit a vet, I see some owner dragging their poor pup that doesn’t want to be there. There’s no doubt about it: the vet can be an extremely stressful experience for any dog/puppy and owner. Unfortunately, regular vet visits are a necessity for the health of our dogs. Here are some tips to make the best of the experience at the vet to set your puppy up for a lifetime of low-stress visits.
1. Find the Right Vet for You
Not all vets are created equal, so the first step in making your puppy’s vet visit successful is to start by going to a great vet. My highest priority in finding a great vet is one that is progressive in their practice. Science is always changing, so your vet should be, too. Some red flags might be: vets who prefer to over-vaccinate, vets who suggest early spay/neuter, and vets who don’t allow owners to be involved in their pet’s care. For me personally, I seek out holistic vets that are supportive of raw feeding, but that isn’t totally necessary if you’re feeding your puppy kibble. Obviously finding a vet practice that’s clean, friendly, and has availability is important, too.
2. Be Prepared
When you first take your puppy to vet, being prepared will help alleviate some of the stress. Prior to the visit, make sure you give your vet access to your puppy’s health records from the breeder/previous owner. There’s a high chance your vet will want to do a fecal test at your first visit. Come prepared with a FRESH (not more than a few hours old) bag of poo for them to test. I like to make early morning appointments because a) there’s a better chance they’ll be on time, b) my puppy will poop first thing in the morning so I know I can use that and c) I can skip my puppy's breakfast so they will be hungry at the vet.
I always, always take food with me to the vet. If I have a puppy that likes to eat, I will take their breakfast portion of kibble with me. It’s important that the puppy be hungry so that they are extra motivated to focus on their kibble and not the environment around them. I periodically reward them with 1 piece of kibble for focusing on me. This goes a long, long way in setting the stage that the vet is a good place for food and that you focus on me, not anything else. If I have a puppy that isn’t food motivated, I might take something higher value like a frozen peanut butter kong for them to lick. If they are food motivated, I just use kibble because it lasts longer and is easier to reward with.
Here's an example of how I use food while waiting to keep my puppy's attention and to keep the stress level low.
3. Advocate for Your Puppy
This is the most important rule for a successful vet trip. Advocating for your puppy looks like:
Not allowing other dogs/clients at the vet office to come up to your puppy. Everyone is tense and anxious at the vet; we do not want those vibes around our puppy. That’s a recipe for a bad experience! Keep your puppy away from dogs there (who could likely be sick, too!) and keep their focus on you. Advocate for your puppy’s space by picking them up if someone allows their dog to get too close or asking them politely to keep their dog back from yours. It should go without saying that you keep your puppy on a short leash and out of other people’s space, too.
If you see your puppy is uncomfortable and you have a solution to it, offer it. For instance, neither Toast nor Flare like to be touched by strangers. I know this going into the vet, so I advocate for them BEFORE things get bad. (If you know your dog might bite, DO NOT withhold that information from the vet! That is extremely disrespectful.) So when the vet comes in to do their exam, I start by introducing myself and my puppy. I explain that she is still getting comfortable with strangers. I ask if they would give her some kibble to let her warmup to them. If she isn’t excited to take kibble from them, I ask them to be slow and gentle when examining her and ask if they would allow me to help restrain her while feeding her kibble. Any good vet will say yes if you ask politely, know what youre doing and are clearly advocating for your dog.
Making sure the vet interacts appropriately with your puppy. I wish this was common sense, but it isn’t. Not all vets and techs understand dog behavior like you think they should. If your puppy isn’t super bold and confident around strangers, PLEASE advocate for them. This means if the vet or tech gets close, ask them politely to please take their time letting your puppy warm up to them. Hand them some kibble to give to your puppy. I always find it helpful to ask vets and techs to keep their voice low. For some reason, high pitch baby voices are common at the vet's office and they will make a nervous puppy more anxious. The less you and other people talk to your puppy, the more comfortable it will be.
Know your dog. Blitz HATES needles. So when she needs bloodwork, I always remind my vet that she hates needles. I bring a peanut butter kong for her to eat and they use a kitten needle on her. The kitten needle takes a lot longer to withdraw blood, but it is definitely worth not dealing with the drama of using a regular needle. If you know something is going to be problematic for your dog, discuss it with your vet prior so they can be prepared and even make adjustments to make everyone's life easier.
Advocate for yourself at the vet, too. I find many vets tend to talk down/think low of client’s understanding of their dog’s health. I am sure they see mostly uneducated “fur moms” who really need the guidance, but chances are if you are taking the time to read this whole article, you are dedicated to your pet’s well-being and doing the best for them. I hate that I have to say this, but you don’t have to allow them to make you feel pressured into anything. I love that my holistic vets truly hear me, trust what I know and work WITH me for my dog’s health. When I visit other vets, I often feel pressured into decisions. If your vet is putting pressure on you to do something you aren’t comfortable with, such as early spay/neuter for a healthy pup, it’s time to find a new vet. Find a vet that you trust to make decisions together.
4. Do your best to be a good client
A vet’s job is hard, I always try to do my best to not make it harder. Although I am not one to just “go with the flow,” I try to make my vet’s job easier by taking care of my dogs to the best of my ability. What this looks like for me is:
Showing up with a dog that’s going to be well-behaved. Obviously, puppies will need practice in this area, but if you show up with an adult dog that’s going to jump all over the vet or be whining and anxious or unable to sit still or might even try to bite them, you are certainly not making their job any easier. Start your puppy out with good experiences so by the time they are at the vet as an adult, they are calm, well-mannered, and enjoyable to be around.
Showing up with a dog that’s as healthy as possible within your control. Feed your dog QUALITY food, give them exercise, keep them up to date on vet care, make sure they have proper training, trim their nails, and most importantly: don’t let them be overweight. Vets see overweight dogs all day every day, you have no idea what a breath of fresh air it is for them to not have to have an “overweight discussion” with an owner. There are endless reasons why you shouldn’t allow your dog to be overweight, but a dog that is of proper weight will certainly make your vet happier. If you aren’t doing your homework to keep your dog healthy, then how can a vet be truly of help?
Know why you're there and what you want to get out of the visit. For instance, if you know you want to get heartworm or tick preventative, it doesn’t hurt to do some research on brands beforehand and discuss them with your vet. If you have questions, write them down so you can go through them. Remember this is a vet, not a trainer. If you need training help, talk to a trainer. But if you have vet questions, keep your questions short and to-the-point so you can get all the answers you need.
Some final notes:
-Vet’s love to give dogs treats which I also love, but I prefer my own food. Sometimes their food will give my puppies diarrhea, which is not fun when potty training. When a vet asks if they can feed my puppy, I always respond, “Yes, but do you mind using my food? Thanks!”
-If your puppy/dog likes toys more than food, absolutely take a toy with you to use as a pacifier instead of food.
-Do your best to make everything a good experience. I always teach my puppies “place” at home as early as I can so that when we go to the vet, I can use food as ask them to “place” on the scale for a weight. This is such a habit that Blitz now runs right to the scale as soon as we get to the vet because she knows she’s going to get food!
Going to the vet is not something that should be thought of as “something to get through.” It is a lifetime experience, do your best to make it a good one from the start. I have had a lot of unfortunate vet experiences over the years and hope I can help keep you, your pup and your vet happy and healthy with these tips!