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Fear Not Little One

Alumni (Retired)

Does Buster seem to Be paralysed By the fear of just anticipating a visit to the vet, while your friend’s pet, Max, sees it as a fun outing? Dr Vanessa Lin offers tips to help your frightened pets cope with this anxiety.



Pets visiting a vet are often aware that something different is about to happen even before entering the reception area. Similar to the parent of a child visiting the dentist for the first time, the tone of the owner’s voice, body language and stress level will affect how the pet reacts to an environment. As your pet looks up to you for assurance, it is important to stay relaxed and calm when preparing a visit to the veterinarian, so your pet will not feel like something is not right!


Learning how to read the body language of your pet will help you identify when your pet is anxious or fearful. These signs can sometimes be subtle and difficult to detect. Signs that can indicate fear include lip licking, panting or drooling, sniffing, shaking, trembling or fidgeting. Some pets may appear to look away or turn their body and head down. Other signs include tension in the body or facial features, holding their tail down or up, excessive fur shedding, urinating and defecating.

Do prepare the things required for the visit to the vet ahead of time, i.e. leash, carrier, favourite toy and treats. One of the reasons why pets are anxious at the veterinary setting is unfamiliarity with the territory. You can gradually familiarise your pet with that vicinity where you will be taking him before your scheduled visit. Making scheduled visits together with the owners of your pet’s animal friends may prove to be fun for you, the other pet owners and the pets. If your pet is very anxious around other animals, try bringing it to the clinic on quieter days.


Restraining is required to perform physical examinations or to give vaccinations to the pet. A pet that has never been physically restrained will naturally struggle when being held, even at a familiar ground. However, restraining can increase anxiety and stress, and in some situations may even cause a pet to lash out. Owners can help by practising daily checks on the ears, mouth and feet. Giving your pet massages is especially helpful to desensitise handling issues and is a great way to relax your dog while at the clinic.


shutterstock_41007889.jpgA calm pet may panic and snap, while a confident dog may appear cautious and shy. Both veterinarians and pet owners should stay calm at all times, give their pets plenty of space and not corner them to escalate the fear. There are several ways of approaching a stressed pet in a consultation room. Always use a gentle slow approach towards a stressed pet by kneeling down and avoiding sudden noises or movements. Mimicking the pet’s body language back to them, and avoid leaning over, staring or putting your hands over your pet’s face will also help to calm a stressed pet. Finally, offer some treats and pat the pet on the chest or under the chin.


It is important for both pet owners and veterinarians to understand that a pet may become aggressive in the consultation room during an examination due to fear and inability to escape. Furthermore, some pets are stimulated by defensive aggression in an attempt to protect their owners in a seemingly menacing situation. Separation of the pet from its owner in this case will be helpful in reducing aggression during the examination.


It is crucial that owners understand that placing a muzzle on an aggressive dog for brief periods is not cruel. On the contrary, this has a calming effect on the dog and also ensures everyone’s safety. Owners can start training their dogs to use the muzzle by playing. Tasty dog treats can be placed in the muzzle too. In this way, your pet will associate the muzzle with happy memories and be less upset when the vet uses it for the visit.


In conclusion, perseverance and patience, along with lots of positive reinforcements for good behaviour, will see your pet well on its way to enjoying a visit at the vet!


Want to bring your pet out for a day of fun? Drop by the My Pet My Family Event at Marina Barrage on the 31st of October, with a free movie screening for both you and your pet too! For more details, and to take part in the activities, visit here!


Looking for more ways to love your pet? Visit clubpets  for help on topics ranging from healthcare, nutrition, grooming and behavioural issues.


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