It has taken me years of visiting various vet clinics with my pet dogs, cats and foster cats to finally feel a bit more comfortable to advocate for my pet’s welfare at our chosen vet clinic. In speaking to our training and behaviour clients, and my colleagues I am not the only one who freezes when it comes to advocating for our own pets at the vet clinic.

Why do we hesitate when it comes to advocating for our pet’s welfare at the vet clinic?

There are many reasons for hesitating when we feel that we should advocate for our pet at the vet clinic. For me, I didn’t want to be perceived as questioning a professional’s practice. I found this particularly hard as I still get a bit awestruck around vets. Their jobs are mentally, physically and emotionally difficult. I also would feel like I didn’t want to be the problem client by asking for them to do something different, or take more time with my pet.
Unfortunately these perceptions I had were reinforced by several vets – either by treating me like I was a problem, or treating me like I didn’t know what I was talking about when I pointed out my pet was showing signs of stress.

Why should we advocate for our pets at the vet clinic?

Simply, by taking a pet into our lives, we become responsible for looking after our pet’s physical and emotional welfare. As your pet’s guardian, you are specially placed to know what behaviours are normal for them. You know if they wake up in the morning and just aren’t themselves. You know if they are stressed at the vet clinic, perhaps simply because they stop being as excited or cheeky as you are used to. While there are many common body language signs of stress, each pet will exhibit this in their own unique way.
If you are new to pet body language, these are some great introductory videos

We also know that our pets are always learning by association. So if each time they go to the vet and they have an experience that makes them feel scared, they are learning that when they go to a place that looks, smells, sounds and feels like a vet clinic, that scary things happen. This usually makes subsequent visits more stressful and difficult both for you and your pet.

When to advocate for your pet at the vet clinic

If your pet is showing signs of discomfort, fear or stress it is time to advocate for your pet.
Don’t let staff ask to take your pet out the back to do a routine procedure, even if your pet is currently not showing signs of fear or stress. Read our earlier blog about why we don’t recommend allowing your pet to be taken out the back of the practice for routine procedures.

How to advocate for your pet

If your pet is showing signs of fear or stress during handling or a procedure, ask for this to be paused so your pet can take a break.

Next, describe the body language that you saw and that showed your pet was experiencing fear or stress. Depending on the level of fear shown, you can discuss options with your vet to make the procedure less stressful. You can also discuss with your vet the urgency of the procedure. If it can wait to be addressed in a follow up appointment, then your vet may be able to provide some strategies to help reduce the stress for the next visit. These strategies will vary and may include:

  • working with a trainer and teaching your pet cooperative care techniques.
  • using tasty treats or a lickimat during the procedure
  • using off the shelf or prescribed calming medication

If your vet is not willing to work with you to reduce stress for your pet, then it may be time to look for another vet.

Does your pet show fear or stress at the vet?

Our wellbeing and training centre has a special general practice vet that takes a kinder and slower approach and helps your pet to become more resilient for their local vet surgery. At your appointment time your pet will be the only pet on site. Our vet and behaviour staff are all Fear Free Certified. This means we are trained in recognising body language signs of fear or stress. We will also modify procedures to reduce any fear and stress. We also offer special one on one sessions to help your pet. Click here for more information on the sessions you can book.