By Gillian Daniels

Regular veterinary visits and annual exams are an important part of your pet’s health, including maintaining a healthy weight, preventing disease and keeping teeth and gums healthy. But some pets have fear and anxiety about visiting the vet.

The veterinary office can seem like a scary place to pets because it’s full of new and unfamiliar sights, smells, people and actions. Instead of avoiding the vet because of the stress it causes your pet, use these steps to prepare and help them overcome their fears and anxieties.

Practice handling your pet. During visits, your vet may touch your pet’s ears, mouth and body in ways that you don’t typically handle your pet. Once a week, practice holding and handling your dog like the vet would. Practice leaning over your pet, keeping him still while you check his ears, mouth and body, and reward him with treats. This practice will help your pet become comfortable with the actions that will often happen during checkups, and help you notice any changes, like new lumps, in your pet.

Schedule “happy visits.” Some pets feel stressed at the vet because they’re not used to the place, scents and people. Most veterinarian offices will allow you to call ahead and schedule “happy visits” to get your pet accustomed to visiting the office. During the visit, get your pet weighed, briefly visit the inside of an exam room and walk around the office to see and smell it.  Reward your pet with treats as he goes through the motions of a successful vet visit.

Make your pet as comfortable as possible. For some pets, being around other animals in the waiting area can be stressful, so consider ways to make your pet feel safe and secure. Ask your vet if you can wait outside or in the car until an exam room is available. For smaller dogs, you may want to hold him in your lap, which can be a safe place.

Keep your cat in its carrier. Cats like small spaces, so keeping them in the carrier while waiting and in the exam room can help your cat feel safe. Help your cat become comfortable with the carrier by leaving it out and occasionally feeding her in it, which will help your cat relax more when in it. At the vet’s office, leave your cat in the carrier and remove the top of the carrier to give your vet access to the cat for its examination. Or restrain your cat with a towel or blanket in a “cat burrito” to help them feel calm.

Invest in training. Teaching your dog basic obedience will also help visits run smoothly. Understanding basic commands such as sit, stay and stand will allow your dog to have more freedom and power during the appointment. New Dawn Animal Behavior Center offers basic manner classes for all dog types where they learn foundational commands in a rewards-based environment.

Reward with treats. Just like regular training, rewarding your pet with treats will help them associate going to the vet as a positive experience. Reward your pet with high-value treats like cheese during every step of the visit. Eventually, your pet will associate the vet as a positive experience – and maybe even want to go back.

Preparing your pet for what they should expect during a veterinary visit and creating a safe and fun environment during the visit should help alleviate the stress associated with the vet.

Gilliam Daniels, CPDT-KA, is the training manager at Clearwater-based New Dawn Animal Behavior, which uses positive, rewards-based training. Daniels’ goal is to encourage dog owners to consider their dog’s emotional needs and learn how to read their body language. For more information, visit