Hi Dr. Janeway,
My dog Boomer needs his shots, heartworm test, toe nails trimmed and I think he has an ear infection. Unfortunately, he is REALLY bad when he goes to the vets- he barks, growls and tries to bite when they come toward him. He has become so bad that they need to sedate him. Can you suggest how I can work with him so he doesn’t need to be sedated every time? I don’t want him to have to go through that every time we go to the vet and it’s getting expensive!
Thank you!

Hi Boomer’s owner! It sounds like Boomer has developed some anxiety at the veterinary hospital. When animals come into the veterinary hospital they are often instantly nervous. It is an environment that they may associate with pain or stressful situations. The presence of other animals alone can make some animals anxious, as well as noises (barking dogs etc. . . ) that can increase stress. There are some steps you can take at home to help work with him to decrease the triggers to his anxiety, but you will also need to work closely with a veterinarian who is trained in dealing with anxious dogs like Boomer. I suggest that you find a veterinarian who is willing to take the time to work with him and to find the right combination of appropriate handling techniques and possibly some anti-anxiety medication. Some veterinary hospitals implement “Fear Free Practices” or are “Fear Free Certified.” This certification basically means the veterinarians and staff members have all taken a course in handling and treatment techniques to help decrease stress and fear in their patients.

The first appointment will likely be a meeting where the veterinarian may not even touch your pet, we can obtain an accurate weight on Boomer and try to make the visit as pleasant as possible by feeding him lots of treats if he will take them, or just having a calm experience in the exam room. We may decide to try a course of anti-anxiety medications before the next appointment to help Boomer to more readily accept handling and restraint. We may even decide to complete his exam out of the exam room, or outside if that helps to avoid his anxiety trigger. At his next appointment we will slowly work toward increasing his acceptance of our handling and work with him to avoid causing undue stress. Of course, if he develops a major illness or injury, he may need to be fully sedated to allow appropriate treatment.

If Boomer has developed anxiety at the sight of a particular stimulus such as nail clippers, you may need to do some training with him at home. I would recommend that you first start with having the toe nail trimmers on the floor in a room and then feeding Boomer lots of treats to make it a fun positive time for him. After repeating the first step for a week or more if needed, you can then increase the pressure by asking him to allow you to hold his paw while the nail trimmers are close by, then the following week tap his toe nails with the trimmers, then once he is accepting of that you can trim one nail etc. . . It is very important when you are retraining him that you change the intensity of the training very slowly and if there is any resistance go back to the step prior. The training time must always be positive and fun and do not try to push him too quickly! Did I mention you need to have time and patience?
Luckily, all the staff at Brighton Greens Veterinary Hospital are “Fear Free Certified.” That means you can call us to set up your initial consultation today. We will work with you and Boomer to find the ideal setting for his appointment and discuss anti-anxiety medication to be given prior to his appointment, if needed. We have successfully turned many previously untouchable patients into dogs that we actually look forward to seeing in our clinic!

Dr. Robin Janeway is a Fear Free Certified Veterinarian and an owner of Brighton Greens Veterinary Hospital in Grass Valley, CA. Your question could be the topic of next months article, call, email or facebook message your questions to us from www.brightongreensvet.com