#73: How to Have Happier Vet Visits

[00:00:00] Allie: Talk to your vet clinic and ask about things like, “Can I schedule at a time when there aren’t going to be as many other people and dogs?” 

“Can I wait in the car with my dog, and you can text me or call me when they’re ready so that I don’t have to wait in the lobby?”

“Can I go straight into the room instead of, of hanging out in the lobby to do paperwork?”

We even do our payment in the room. They just take my credit card, and run payment, and bring my receipt back. 

So, you can ask your vet clinic about all of those different things, and I’ve had so many clients who do this with their regular general practitioner vet. There’s usually a lot more options than many people realize when it comes to setting up really thoughtful antecedent arrangement, and management to make sure that your vet visit is going to go as smoothly as possible.

Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:01:05] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:01:06] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started. 

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts.

Last week, we heard from Dr. Valli Parthasarathy, and one of the topics we discussed was cooperative care for all species. This week, we’re going to dive further into how to have happier vet visits and talk about implementation with the animals in your life. In this implementation episode, Emily and I talk about how to have the wants versus needs conversation with your vet, thoughtful vet clinic antecedent arrangement, and how to determine if your pet does better with you or going into the back with the vet staff.

[00:01:55] Emily: This topic is near and dear to my heart, because I was in the veterinary world for a very long time before I entered the behavior world. And of that time, I was a veterinary technician for 17 years. And in a lot of different practices for actually most of that time, I was a relief veterinary technician for specialty hospitals, large animal practices, exotic practices.

And then of course, you know, dog and cat. practices. So, I kind of, uh, ran the gamut of, of clinics that you could work in. And one of the things that happened over, and over, and over again was seeing how many people struggled with their pet just being miserable at the vet clinic. And that could look like terrified, or it could look like aggressive. It could look like a lot of different things. 

And I’m going to share a story that happened to me that I really hope helps everybody think about why this matters. Because what I heard a lot of the time was, ” Well, you know, it’s just once a year, so I don’t, it doesn’t really matter. Of course, my pet’s not going to like the vet and, but you know. It’s just once a year.”

And first of all, we don’t know that that’s true. Like Dr. Valli said in our interview last week, sometimes if your pet gets sick, you’re gonna be going to the vet quite a bit more than once a year, and the likelihood of any living thing being sick at least once in their life is pretty high. But the other thing to think about is that not only are you putting your pet in a situation that’s going to be very, very scary for them, and the more scared they are, the more scary that thing is going to be, which will just make it worse every time.

 But also, the people who are working with your pet are also humans who have feelings and bodies that can be injured. So, I’m saying this story with all the love in my heart, but think about this. 

One of the times when I was a vet tech, I walked into an exam room and there was this huge German shepherd. I’m not even sure he was purebred because the boy was massive. He was over 90 pounds. And I walked into the room and he snarled, jumped, lunged, and snapped his jaws at my throat. And the only thing that stopped him from making contact was that he hit the end of the leash. And he was so close to my neck that I could feel his breath on my neck, and he left spit. on my neck. 

And I said to the woman, “Wow, it seems like your dog is, is really upset about being here, and we have some trainers that we can refer you to, to help your dog, handle meeting new people.” 

And she goes, “Well, it doesn’t matter because he’s not like this anywhere, but at the vet clinic, and we only come in once a year.”

 And I was like, “Right, but at the vet clinic, he’s dangerous.” 

And she kind of shrugged and she went, “So, it’s just, it’s just in the clinics. It’s just once a year.”

And I just looked at her and all I could think was you don’t care about me at all. Like you don’t care that your dog could have just sent me to the hospital and possibly killed me. It doesn’t even bother you that your dog posed a very real. threat to my life. 

So, just be aware of that. This is my, my take home story for everybody is what your pet experiences matters because they are sentient emotional beings, and if they’re terrified of something, it makes sense for us to help them be less terrified. And also, the veterinary field has one of the highest risks of burnout, and compassion fatigue, and trauma. And these are people who have bodies and emotions, and it’s not okay to be cavalier about potentially. injuring them just because you only see them once a year. They see animals all day, every day, all year round. 

So, we’re going to, this episode is not just for the pets. It’s also for you and also for the veterinary staff who put themselves at risk every day to make sure your pets are healthy. 

[00:05:44] Allie: I’m sorry that happened to you, Emily. 

[00:05:46] Emily: Hey, you know, occupational hazard, but I think it’s a good reminder of why these things matter to everybody.

[00:05:53] Allie: I agree. And I think that’s a really good example of what we talk about when we’re talking about the enrichment framework, of that it’s not just about the animal and the animal’s experience. There are a whole lot of individuals that come into contact with that animal and who are a part of their well-being. And so, your example of, it’s not just the pet, it’s not just the pet parent, it’s also the veterinary staff that includes the vet techs, the vet themselves, even sometimes the receptionists and, and people up at front, uh, helping you with paperwork and all of that sort of stuff. There are a whole lot of people involved in this, and through that enrichment framework, we need to make sure that everybody’s needs are being met, including the vet staff.

[00:06:40] Emily: Absolutely. Yeah. 

[00:06:42] Allie: Yeah. So, this is one where we all have to take our pets to the vet at some point in time, in the beginning usually once a year, and then as our pets age, more than once a year, so let’s make sure that it is a happy visit for everyone as much as is possible.

And so, the first part of this is if your pet doesn’t dislike the vet or vet clinic yet, start now. This is one where, ugh, there’s so much that we can do with preventative measures here, and it is so much easier to spend the time now working on helping your pet feel comfortable at the vet clinic than it is After, they already have strong feelings about it, and then you have to undo the strong feelings and then teach the good feelings.

And that’s, that’s a lot of work. So, if your pet doesn’t have strong feelings about the vet right now, this is the time. And one of the ways that you can do that, we often call them happy vet visits, but I’ve heard other terms for this too. Is take them in, take your pet in. for just like a quick snack, maybe a scritch if they enjoy being petted by people, and then leave. Nothing bad happens. This is just the magical place that has cookies and pets if they like pets, and nothing bad happens at this moment. 

If you’re going to do happy vet visits, I strongly recommend calling your clinic, or emailing your clinic first and asking, one, if that’s okay, if they, if it’s a day where they’re like, we’re doing dentals and we have like zero staff that’s going to be in the front and, you know, 20 animals that are going to be in the lobby. That’s not a day to do a happy vet visit. So, call or email your, your vet clinic first to make sure that it’s a good day to come in. Ask them when it’s going to be a little bit quieter. Let them know you’ll be there. Some vet clinics offer this for free, and then some vet clinics have a charge. Usually, the clinics that have a charge for happy vet visits also let you like go into the room, and play on the scale and uh, maybe the, the vet tech will come out and meet your dog, so sometimes there’s a little bit more involvement with those, those charged options.

But absolutely, this is one of the best things that we can do to make the vet an awesome place for our pets from the get-go. 

[00:09:03] Emily: Yeah, and I’ve seen that work really well when I still worked with clients in person and I would see puppies, I would have them start with this and it usually only took like one or two visits. And then by the time they actually had to go in the third visit, the puppy’s like, I know you, you’re the cookie people. And so really that Uh, what did they say? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That really, really applies in this situation for sure. But if your pet already doesn’t like going to the vet and they already have bad feelings about, about the vet or the vet clinic, there are several things that you can do to help change the way they feel, or at least reduce those icky feelings so that it doesn’t become this escalating thing where every time you go in, it just gets worse, and worse, and worse. 

So, one of the things that you can do is have that once versus needs conversation that Dr. Valli talked about last week. So, is this a procedure that we want to do, or is it something that we actually need to do? And if we don’t actually need to do it right now, let’s work on it as a skill, teach your pet how to engage with it. Or find another way for it to happen, so a lot of things have, have easier alternatives that people don’t know about necessarily, like the grooming situation. If your dog doesn’t do well going to a groomer, there are some groomers who will come to your house and do it, and some dogs find that a lot easier and less stressful. 

If it’s something that doesn’t need to happen right away, you have the time to figure out a way to help that experience be more pleasant for your dog or at the very least less stressful for your dog. 

If it’s something that absolutely does need to happen, you can have a conversation with your vet about whether or not your pet is a candidate for sedation. Because again, as Dr. Valli and I talked about last, last week, sometimes if we can sedate the animal and get the procedure done when they’re not conscious and they don’t know what’s going on and they’re not aware that it’s happening, that can give us the time to get them more comfortable with whatever that procedure is. So, you’re not going to have to sedate them every time forever, but doing it now gives us the time to work on it when it’s not an urgent problem that needs to be addressed right away. 

Now, not every animal is a candidate for sedation and like Dr. Valli and I discussed, not every vet is comfortable with that strategy, but it’s worth having that conversation to see if that’s a way that we can do this procedure without, re exposing your pet to aversive stimuli.

If sedation isn’t an option, and you absolutely have to get the procedure done, I’m going to refer you back to our implementation episode number 24, When Agency Isn’t an Option, because there are still ways to get it done in a minimally stressful, minimally aversive way with your pet. But explore your options because there are actually a lot more options than I think most people realize.

[00:11:55] Allie: And I, I just want to chime in on the sedation visits as well, because that’s the route that many of my clients end up taking. Since, you know, we specialize in working with kiddos that have severe aggression and anxiety. And there is one case in particular that I remember. He was, husky-ish mix. He was a big floofy guy, who had very, very strong feelings about the vet clinic.

I remember working with these clients, we were working on his handling sensitivities in addition to, to other maladaptive behaviors that he had. I just remember how stressful it was for them that he couldn’t have his rabies vaccine, he couldn’t have his heartworm test, he wasn’t on heartworm prevention medicine, and I remember that it really caused a toll on the client’s mental health.

And so, we found a vet clinic in their area that would do a sedation visit for him, they got him in, they got him all checked out, they got his vaccines, they got his tests, and the clients felt so much better and were able to make so much more progress with him because they finally had this burden lifted.

And so, I just, I became such a huge fan of sedation visits when the, when the pet can do it. And when we have a clinic that is, is able to do that, after that case, it just like completely opened my eyes to that.

[00:13:17] Emily: And I do want to say as an aside, we didn’t talk about it. a lot in the last episode, but we kind of briefly referenced it, the sedations for minor procedures like that are not the same as general anesthesia. It’s not as many sedatives. It’s not as much. So, it’s a, it’s a safer procedure, usually, typically speaking, it’s a safer procedure than a big, general anesthesia.

And even general anesthesia is a lot safer now than it used to be. We know a lot more now. We have a lot more, um, monitoring equipment and technology at our disposal. So, I am very sympathetic to, to people’s concerns about the safety of sedation, but we’ve come a long way. And, and just in general, be aware that those procedures usually don’t require general anesthesia. 

[00:14:01] Allie: And speaking of things like sedation visits. Find a vet and a vet clinic who has really thoughtful antecedent arrangement when it comes to kiddos who have feelings about being at the vet clinic. And not just for those kiddos who already have feelings, but how are they setting up their, their practice and their services so that we can have as good of an experience regardless of how the pet already feels about being at the vet clinic.

And so, for an example. I take Oso to a vet clinic that is working on its fear free certification. I adore them. And one of the things that I absolutely love is that you do not wait in the lobby with your pet. And this is true for everybody, not just their fearful or anxious kiddos. And so, we pull up to the parking lot, somebody comes out to the car, and they say, “Who are you?”

I mean, they say it nicer than that, but they say, “Who are you?”

I say, “I have Oso.” 

And they say, “Okay, we’ll go get his paperwork. We’ll come get you when you’re ready.”

We come into the building, and for him, because he has had a history of reactivity with other dogs, they make sure the entire lobby is clear. He is not going to encounter a single other dog when he’s in there.

We go straight back into the room. They let us use a scale in the back of the clinic so that he doesn’t have to hang out in the lobby longer than just the walkthrough, and it is so much less stressful to do it that way. And that is now just their general practice. That’s how they do it for everybody, which is fantastic.

So, if you have a clinic that isn’t as I’ll say advanced in fear free, as this clinic is, you can talk to your vet clinic and ask about things like, “Can I schedule at a time when there aren’t going to be as many other people and dogs?” 

“Can I wait in the car with my dog, and you can text me or call me when they’re ready so that I don’t have to wait in the lobby?”

“Can I go straight into the room instead of, of hanging out in the lobby to do paperwork?”

We even do our payment in the room. They just take my credit card, and run payment, and bring my receipt back. 

So, you can ask your vet clinic about all of those different things and I’ve had so many clients who do this with their regular general practitioner vet who are not fear free certified, who aren’t working on fear free certification.

There’s usually a lot more options than many people realize when it comes to setting up really thoughtful antecedent arrangement, and management to make sure that your vet visit is going to go as smoothly as possible.

[00:16:36] Emily: And I have a story about this because this dog was so impactful on me when I was just starting to learn about the behavior sciences and, and how to be a behavior consultant. And I was just a wee bab at practicing these techniques. Um, I was working at a clinic, and we had a dachshund who had really fast growing nails.

They were really curvy, so when they would grow long, they would almost immediately start curving back towards the pads and, um, it would look like he’d been sorely neglected. And it was like, no, really this, this took a matter of months to do this. 

And so, we had to trim his nails on a regular basis. But he hated it. And this little dachshund required four people, and a muzzle, to restrain him to get his nails done. That’s how much he hated it. And he had to do it frequently enough that the vet was really concerned about sedating every single time. 

And so, I was, I was new to the field. I was excited to try it out. So, I talked to the woman and I was like, how would you feel about scheduling regular visits a tech visit with me and we’ll have you come in at a specific time when we don’t have other appointments coming in and we’ll bring them straight into the tech room and we’ll work on, getting him comfortable with nail trims and, and taking it slowly and just maybe we’ll get as many nails done as we can at a time. But because we’re doing these visits more regularly, we’ll get his nails trimmed, uh, like over the, the, the cumulative visits will keep all of his nails trimmed. 

And she was like, “I’m willing to try it. I’ve tried everything else. Like, let’s give it a go. What do we have to lose?”

And it took a while. And, but we got to the point where he would come into the vet clinic, and he would see me and his eyes would light up, his ears would perk up, he’d start wagon his tail. And tap dancing and he’d get onto the table and immediately start looking for my snacks. 

And he just didn’t really care that I was handling his paws trimming his nails. And. Uh, we were all so excited and even emotional about that transformation because, um, at the time, at least in Austin, fear free, vet visits were not a thing.

It was not a known concept. These kind of antecedent arrangement policies were really, really uncommon, again, at least in Austin, but seeing it work and seeing that transformation was hugely impactful for me as a little baby behavior consultant in training. And that, that, that, little dog always stayed with me because I remembered how much progress we can make when we just set up the environment and take our time and make it fun. So that was my big, my big push towards, better antecedent arrangement of vet clinics. 

And finally, have a conversation with your vet about whether your pet is going to do better with you or away from you. I know this is a hot topic and I know that people can tend to feel strongly one way or the other, but as with everything, it really depends. There’s not one unilaterally right answer for all pets. Some people, even people who have worked on cooperative care training and they have their routine and their setup, once they get into the vet clinic, they’re so nervous and amped up, and their animal feeds on that, and all of that beautiful training just kind of disintegrates into nothing. 

So, it’s really important to have a conversation with your vet about whether your dog is going to do better staying with you or going into the back with the vet tech.

Some animals legitimately do better away from their people either because They’re trying to protect their people or because their people are nervous and they’re feeding off of that nervousness. Some pets genuinely do better with their people in the room. So. Instead of just having one blanket rule in your head for everything, look at the animal in front of you in that context to determine whether your pet does better with you or in the back without you.

[00:20:20] Allie: And I’ll say too, ask how they do things in the back if you’re not going to a fear free clinic. Because doing better when six people are sitting on your dog is not doing better. That’s just my, my little soapbox for that.

[00:20:31] Emily: Excellent point. Thank you for that caveat, because yes, that is a really good point.

[00:20:37] Allie: Yes, yeah, all right. So today we talked about how to have happier vet visits, and that includes starting with a happy vet visit where you go in, you have a snack, and maybe a scritch and leave and nothing bad happens. If your pet already doesn’t like going to the vet, have that wants versus needs conversation with your vet and talk to them about how you can set up thoughtful antecedent arrangements so that it’s easier to get in the door, and that’s one less trigger to add to that trigger stacking. And while you’re in there, have an open conversation with your vet about your pet’s behavior with you versus away from you. You can do some trial and eval to figure out what’s going to be best for your pet.

Next week, we will be answering your questions in a Q& A episode. This one is Q& A, why does my dog only care sometimes?

Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.

Thank you for listening and happy training.

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