Low Stress Handling Part 3 - owner behaviour July 23, 2015 17:43
I would like to start this blog post by stating that my clients are the best pet owners around! They all care so much about their pets that they have searched and found me, so that we can provide the care their pets need in the way that works for them. That's a major factor in my extremely high level of job satisfaction - dealing with such lovely people! So please don't feel criticised or embarrassed or anything negative at all when you read the rest of this article. I don't tend to take pictures of people's behaviour, so the photos in this post are just going to be a handful of lovely owner and pet shots that I have collected over the years, for your enjoyment :-)
If you come across something in this article that you know you have done wrong in the past, it's ok! Trust me, you were not the only one!! And if you just can't manage some of this stuff, that's ok too. It's just here for your learning and information, and as some helpful suggestions that will contribute to your pet having a positive vet-visit experience.
Let's break it down into a few general areas: before the visit, how you personally act during the visit, and how you handle your pet during the visit.
BEFORE THE VISIT:
It can be very helpful if you don't feed your pet right before their veterinary visit. Food is one of the main tools we have for rewarding good behaviour, as well as making friends and encouraging bravery and acceptance. Being a little bit hungry can increase it's effectiveness hugely. If they have a strong meal routine and it does fall shortly before I am coming, maybe just give them 1/3 of their usual volume. Or if it's not too long to wait, let me give them their food. That way, when I arrive and give them lots of treats, I'm a pretty enjoyable visitor!
If your pet has a favourite food, you could buy some and keep it hidden until I come. My dog Lara will do absolutely ANYTHING for BBQ chicken. Does your dog have a food they love like that? You can give it to me when I arrive, then any food orientated dog will instantly be more likely to consider me their friend. If your pet is obsessed with a certain toy, hide it a few hours before I come, then slip it to me so I can produce it.
Your pets are close to you, of course, and most of them are very tuned in to your emotional state. Try to be calm and relaxed before the visit. Trust us - it will be ok. Don't tell your pet "Dr Amy's coming" again and again - they will pick up on tension or excitement, and be more likely to be reactive rather than calm and confident when I do come.
It's very helpful if dogs are wearing a collar, and some will be better if on a lead, so make sure you have one handy.
And finally, consider their environment. Timid little dogs will often hide under tables and chairs or behind TV units. Cats will often race in under beds or into wardrobes. If possible, set things up to prevent them getting into these hard to access areas. It is traumatic for them to be dragged out from under or behind things. It's much less stressful if you can prevent them from getting into these spots. You may need to limit them to a certain room, or close all the bedroom doors, or have them on a leash. And cats need to be indoors. I can't treat a patient who is up a tree!
HOW YOU PERSONALLY ACT DURING THE VISIT:
Lots of things we do are subconscious, but that doesn't mean they don't affect those around us. Pets are much better at picking up behavioural cues than humans, because it plays a bigger role in their own communication methods.
So try your best to be calm and confident during the visit. Keep your body movements slow and fluid. Avoid jerky jumpy actions, and try not to tense your neck and jaw muscles. Speak slowly and calmly in a normal tone of voice. Many people who are tense talk much faster than normal, at a higher pitch, and with many short sharp sentences. Relax and have a chat with me - I always do this for a bit to give pets time to adjust and investigate. I also really like to catch up with clients and hear what's going on in their world! Side note: while I really appreciate the thought behind an offer of tea or coffee, I almost always decline. This is mainly to do with limiting the number of loo stop-offs I have to make!
Try to avoid hustle and bustle during the visit. Allow plenty of time so that I don't have to rush so you can get to school pickups on time. If at all possible, don't schedule my visit at the same time as the plumber's or the mechanic's visit, or the cleaner arriving to vacuum, or the departure of beloved family who are moving overseas for a year. If you have little kids who can be boisterous and/or demanding, consider putting on a favourite DVD or setting them up with a good supply of special food in the high chair.
HOW YOU HANDLE YOUR PET DURING THE VISIT:
The first big thing: when I arrive, give them time and space. Rushing them to me is a very common mistake I see people make. It will be less stressful if they are allowed to approach me at their own pace. You do not need to pick up and restrain your cat as soon as I'm in the door - leave them where they are relaxing, while we have a chat, and I get my gear prepared. This gives them time to adjust to my presence, become familiar with the different smells I might have brought in with me, and it limits the amount of time they are being interfered with. I will always want to gather information about their history BEFORE I examine them - I usually need to ask what's been going on, if you have any particular concerns, when the symptoms first started, whether they have worsened with time or not and probably a few other details. Of course you need to have done the right preparation before the visit to ensure they can't race off and hide in your cupboard while we are talking ;-)
Secondly, be patient with them. No matter what they are doing, never yell at them! It's actually common for owners to get their pets in big trouble for behaviours which are purely caused by fear and anxiety.This will not help at all. Calm and quiet behaviour from you will be much more effective. If you haven't already read my previous article click on the link for some examples of behaviours that are caused by anxiety:
Think about how you are touching them. Frenetic patting will transfer tension. Compulsive stroking of a cat will annoy them if they're not in the mood.
If your pet is small, they will often need to be picked up to have their examination - either in your arms or on a bench or table. It will be less scarey if you pick them up rather than me. However many are then perfectly happy to come to me once they are up at the right height. Be willing to hand them over if needed :-)
And be adaptable. There is no single technique that causes calmness in all pets. We may have to pause and alter our approach a few times before we find what works for your pet. I can't foretell how a dog or cat will respond to something until we try it. I know that sometimes when owners are a bit tense, they wish we could just hurry up and get it done. We could do this, but it wouldn't be constructive. It would mean that the next visit will probably be harder. So be ready to adapt, and remember, I'm trying to build a long term relationship of trust with your pet. Not just get the vaccine into them any-old-how.
Here's a short video of me pretending to be a pet owner who is doing some of the unhelpful actions that we have covered. My poor Lara - don't worry, she got some BBQ chicken straight after this!!
I hope that's been constructive and informative. If there are things here that you are concerned you aren't able to do, feel free to mention them when we are booking your appointment. Low stress handling is a team effort! Remember that what we are trying to achieve - anxiety free veterinary care, is extremely worthwhile but also very challenging. The benefits for me are less physical danger, more enjoyment (being a welcomed and happily anticipated visitor is much more rewarding than being feared), and being able to offer more effective medical care options. The benefits for you are less stress and more enjoyment of the health care aspect of pet ownership, and often less expense when treatments are needed. The benefits for your pet are hard to overstate. A trusting and happy relationship with their vet and the ability to cope with medical intervention can mean the difference between life and death in some cases. But at the least, they are happier, and can receive the very best care that they deserve.