Managing Vet Visit Stress: 9 Steps to Calm

Little dog as a vet

Ah, the vet visit. On our list of least favorite things to do, many of us would rate this a close second to a root canal.

Fortunately, there are steps we can take well ahead of the visit as well as on the day of your appointment to lessen our pet's anxiety, as well as our own. Here are just nine.

Setting the Stage

1.  Believe it or not, one of the best ways to prepare to visit the vet's office is, well, to visit the vet's office! I'm not referring to an appointment with the vet, just a visit to the office. And make it a fun one! Of course, check with the office first and explain the purpose of your visit.  Ask when the office might be the least busy, then head out with some treats (special ones just for visits to the vet’s office) and a toy or two. No need to stay long. Just long enough for your pet to sniff out a new environment, meet the staff, play a bit, cuddle a bit, and get some treats for good behavior. Ta dah! You’ve just given your pet a positive vet visit!  Feel free to do this "practice run" more than once to reinforce the experience.

2.  Positive experiences in the car are helpful, too. Take her for short car rides and return home to a treat and lots of hugs. If you can work in some play time before and after the ride – a stop at the park perhaps? -- so much the better. Even a ride around the block that is reinforced with rewards and praise will go a long way toward making any car ride, even one to the vet’s, a positive experience.

3.  Your vet will want to handle your pet, of course, so be sure he (your pet, that is) is comfortable with being touched. Find a time when he’s in a calm and submissive mood, and recreate some of what the vet will do, in a gentle and playful way. Handle your pet’s feet, lift his tail, look in his ears and eyes, gently lift his lip to look at his teeth (no need to recreate taking his temperature, thankfully). Groom him regularly and, if you're up for it, trim his nails and brush his teeth! If you do these kinds of things in your home on a regular basis, they won’t seem as strange when the vet does them.

4.  If you transport your pet in a carrier, make sure the carrier doesn’t scream “vet visit!” to your pet. Leave it out all the time, if possible, so she can become familiar with it. Line it with a favorite blanket and add some toys and treats. A carrier with a removable top is ideal and may allow the vet to examine her while she remains in the bottom half. Be sure to use the carrier to take her places other than the vet and reward her when you return.

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Keep Calm and Carry On

5.  Yes, pets pick up on our anxiety or tension, so take a deep breath, slow down, and, if necessary, fake it! Try to stick to your normal routine on the day of your visit so your pet doesn’t sense that something is up

Vet visit stress may be calmed with Thundershirt.
Vet visit stress may be calmed with Thundershirt.

6.  You know your pet better than anyone, and if you know that this visit is bound to cause him some stress, there are some safe and natural products that will help him cope. Essential oils like lavender, for example, can have a calming effect. Canine Calm, by Earth Heart, can be used directly on your dog's fur or sprayed on a favorite blanket or the bedding that goes into his crate. Cats tend to be sensitive to essential oils; but look into pheromones, a synthetic version of the chemical signal your cat uses when she rubs her face against you. Thundershirt, another option for dogs, “hugs” your dog, applying gentle pressure to soothe tension.

7.  If your pet gets nervous at any point, resist the urge to pet him and tell him everything is OK, says dog trainer, Cesar Millan. Strangely enough, he will think you are rewarding his behavior, thereby reinforcing his nervousness.

8.  Bring your pet to the vet hungry. Skip a meal and bring along some favorite treats for positive reinforcement in the office. Bite-size treats are best as they can be consumed quickly and stretched over a longer period of time. Try soft treats, like tiny pieces of hot dog or diced chicken. Don’t worry about calories or nutritional value! It’s more important that your pet have a positive vet visit.

9.  Be prepared to talk to the vet. Mention any unusual symptoms, e.g. loss off appetite, limping, anything out of the ordinary. And have questions ready before you head out the door. This is your chance to have your vet all to yourself, so don’t hesitate to share any concerns you may have. If medicines or treatment are prescribed, be sure to jot down instructions and/or ask for a demonstration. Being informed will lesson your stress in the long run!

Do you have any suggestions for managing the stress of a vet visit? Share them with our community!


“8 secrets to stress free vet visits.” No date.

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"Take the stress out of going to the vet."  No  date. 

Johnson, Terri, CVT. “Master the stress-free veterinary visit.” Feb 19, 2014.

Rodier, Lisa. “Less Stressful Veterinary Visits.” No date.