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Posted on 11-18-2016

Most of the pets veterinary staff see in the clinic are well socialized and easy to treat. There are always a few who require special handling and extra time to relax for their exams, especially when they are in pain or in need of a nail trim or blood draw.

Pearl was an 11 year old cat who had an autoimmune blood disorder when I began seeing her. Her owner told me she had never been to a vet who didn’t have to anesthetize her to treat her. Pearl was extremely ill, but still very aggressive when she exited her carrier. She hissed, pinned her ears back and bared her teeth. She told us she would bite if we persisted in approaching her.

Her owner was both embarrassed and worried about how her pet could survive, if she would have to be anesthetized every week for treatments and tests. She came to the office, with the hopes that acupuncture could help Pearl, so she wouldn’t have to put her on chemotherapy. She admitted that she wasn’t sure how I would be able to place acupuncture needles into such an aggressive cat.

Unfortunately, many owners, like Pearl’s, dread vet visits when their pets display clinic anxiety or aggression towards staff.

Solutions for the problem pet, including the one who becomes difficult for a simple nail trim, need to be found early. Avoiding going to the veterinary clinic with pets can cause simple illnesses to become too advanced to be treated successfully.

Veterinary staff frequently handle aggressive pets in the clinic setting. These animals can be described by the following behavior patterns with accompanying solutions:

  1. Calm at home, but poorly socialized with strangers
    1. Working with a behaviorist to socialize pets from an early age helps prevent this problem.
    2. If you have an adult pet which was never well socialized, you can teach older dogs and cats new tricks. Happy visits by friends who feed and play with pets, first at home and then outdoors, can help many animals. Rewarding pets with food treats or games for approaching strangers is also helpful. Technicques like T-touch, a touch therapy taught by Linda Tellington Jones with videos online, and massage techniques can benefit dogs and cats with social anxiety.
  2. Aggressive towards all strangers at home and outside the home
    1. The solution requires more intensive work with a behaviorist and veterinarian, using combinations of behavioral conditioning and nutritional or drug therapy may be required to help these pets overcome obstacles to getting stress-free care.
    2. The most aggressive pets in this group can and should receive sedation for their care to prevent injury to themselves, their owners and veterinary staff.
  3. Fearful pets which become aggressive when cornered or restrained
    1. In some cases changing the exam sequence, the office or location can “reset” the fear response
    2. Many of these pets can have successful exams without sedation, if they have a series of “happy visits”. These visits include petting, feeding treats and playing games, but no vet care or tests are performed until the animal becomes happy about the prospect of visiting the office. Often these pets will bond with the staff and run to greet staff.
  4. Pets which have situational anxiety/aggression, limited to veterinary offices and/or restraint
    1. The solution for these pets is also “happy visits”.
  5. Pets which are friendly with staff, but aggressive to other pets
    1. Let the staff know and they/we can schedule your visit so other pets are isolated from this patient
    2. Behaviorists can help your pet overcome this problem with re-conditioning.

In Pearl’s case, she had 2 visits during which acupuncture was not performed. I discovered that Pearl was not interested in treats, because she was too afraid to take them.

After finding out that her owner played the flute in the symphony, I suggested we play classical music in the exam room, dim the lights, use calming essential oils and wait for Pearl to come to the staff. By the third visit, Pearl was literally eating from our hands.

From that point on, we were able to treat her successfully, and her autoimmune blood disorder resolved over a 4 month period.

Pearl is not the only patient we’ve seen for whom happy visits have worked. If your pet experiences veterinary clinic anxiety or aggression for specific treatments or tests, be sure to talk to your vet about reducing his stress and making future visits more successful.

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