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So I saw this article showing pictures of pets being taken to the vet. The pictures show animals actually covering up their faces, dropped ears etc.. and are actually showing negative emotion.

But do they really feel "fear" or "anxiety" whenever they get a trip to the vet? Like humans do when we go to the doctor.

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    Well, they fear the difference in routine, the unsettling road journey, the difference in smells. My cat actually loves being at the vet's office, but gets very angry during the journey.
    – Piper
    Aug 28, 2015 at 8:10

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I don't think dogs have an innate fear of going to the vet, but they are very good at picking up on patterns and can easily become fearful given what usually happens at the vet.

It's possible that an owner might do things a bit differently when taking the dog to the vet. A dog can pick up even the small things such as if you talk a different way or turn the "wrong" way out of the house.

Additionally, many dogs probably only get in the car to go to the vet, which is one of the reasons why it's important to have lots of trips in the car to fun places when the dog is young.

Finally, the vet is almost never a fun place. As @Piper mentioned, you've got all these new smells, sights, and other animals which could also be fearful that the dog will pick up on. And after all that, a strange person pokes and touches them in weird ways.

Sure, most vets are very gentle and try to help offset the unpleasantness with lots of treats, but pretty soon, a dog will pick up on all the cues that happened before and can be fearful when she smells the vet, if not before.

It can really help if you touch your dog the same way as a vet does at home with lots of rewards when the dog is young. This will show her that it's ok when their toes are touched, her teeth can be looked at, or her ribs are felt, etc. We also always try to play a couple quick games while we wait in the room so I'll use a couple treats or bring a toy. The vet will still be unpleasant, but because there is a history of good things happening during checkup, the dog will less likely to be completely overwhelmed.

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  • I've always deliberately accustomed my cats to having paws and ears massaged and so on for exactly this reason. Makes trimming the claws much less of a hassle too.
    – keshlam
    Aug 28, 2015 at 17:18
  • Dog owner who's not afraid of the vet here. The only thing my particular dog is really afraid of is the slippery (sterile) flooring. Everything else is just another adventure. I've always found being calm, making everything no big deal is extremely helpful. I don't feel sorry for the dog, don't dread the trip, don't treat the dog any differently, the car trip is just the same as any other. I have found the dog picks up far more cues from my behavior and can dread so much as a trip to the park if I act afraid.
    – rlb.usa
    Aug 28, 2015 at 18:11
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I think your pet certainly can feel fear and anxiety about the vet. I'll say that I think a lot of the problem is people. For instance, in the article you mentioned, at least two of the pictures are of people hugging the dog in sympathy and that leads a human to the conclusion that the dog is fearful based on the context. You often see people holding scared children the same way and people are wired to feel comfort from contact like this. However, a dogs point of view is that something scary or stressful happens, they give a reaction to it, such as cowering or snapping, and the person gives them affection. Their pack leader praised them, so it must be the right response. Ignoring that behavior and rewarding good behavior will cut a lot of it out right there.

Another reason people cause real anxiety in their pets, not just projected, is by the way they act. They expect their pet to be scared of the vet, so they change their approach to them, acting sympathetic or more quiet. Just like when you train a dog and they use your cues to know to sit, they're very good at picking up on body language and tone and if the only time you pet them and talk to them softly is when you go on a trip to the vet, they'll know where they're going. They'll associate that with the anxiety and stress of the vets office.

Now, to issues that aren't caused by people. Dogs have real reasons to feel anxious and stressed at the vet. You have a bunch of strange new faces, smells, and sounds. It's very overwhelming. Their natural instinct is to interact with the other dogs, which you don't and shouldn't allow, so their blocked there. There are other dogs misbehaving and making all kinds of noises they shouldn't be. All of these things, not to mention the physical pain they experience at the hands of the vets with shots, fecal check, and working on injuries, cause all kinds of emotional and physical discomfort.

Just think of how you get nervous going to the doctor. You worry about how much it's going to cost to fix what's wrong with you, is it terminal, will they find something unexpected, are the sick people around me gonna throw a germ on me, will the exam hurt, are they going to judge me based on my weight or looks, etc.... And you're a human who can rationalize what's going on. I'm sure you've been in a situation at some point where you had a responsibility thrown onto you and you were expected to try to get it done even if you don't think you have enough training or knowledge about it. That kind of anxiety, probably multiplied is what they feel.

So you can see how a negative association can be formed. You can probably get around it by having more positive experiences than negative ones. Like how 99% of the time that I load my dogs up, we go somewhere fun, so I never have to fight to get them loaded to go to the vet. You can ride your dog up there several times a year, sit in the waiting room for a bit, then go in a room and have a vet tech hand them a treat when you put them up on the table. You can probably take them to the waiting room for free. You also might not be able to get in a room, depending on the vet and how things are set up and how busy they are. They might also charge you a small fee for their time if they come into the room with you. It's something you'll have to ask your vet and see how much time and energy you want to put into it. With most dogs, they don't have a super long life expectancy and most dogs will only have to deal with the trauma of a vet 10-12 times in their whole life.

You can do things to reduce their stress even if you don't want to take them up there for training runs. You can go first thing in the morning. If you go, even no a Saturday and you're there when they open up, chances are you'll be in a room within a half hour and that no more than a handful of people will show up. This will allow you to space yourself out from the other people and the noise and stress will be down with the lack of animals and the fact that they clean at night before going home.

Lastly, just as a related note and a point I'd like to bring up with anyone reading this, I encourage you to say something to your vet if you observe anyone letting their animals leave their immediate vicinity or letting them interact. Earlier this year, I observed some people with a jack Russell like dog on a retractable leash (which I don't like either) and they were letting it run out the line in a crowded room. I saw it run under two rows of seating and bite a dog that was lying down facing the other way, minding it's own business. Even if peoples dogs aren't aggressive, the best outcome is that no one fights or gets hurt. The options only go down from there. The dogs have no reason to interact and won't ever be let off leash together. They need to be kept contained near their owners for everyone's safety. That will really cause your dog to dislike the vet if they feel like they'll be attacked when they go in. It's also been seen many times that getting attacked once can cause dogs to become aggressive as a preemptive retaliation. I hope this has helped answer your question.

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Yes! Dogs do have fears and it’s not surprising that dog often develop a fear of visits to veterinary clinic. When your dog is showing signs of anxiety when they get to know what is going to happen with them, since they have no idea the veterinarian is looking out for their well being. During puppy veterinarian, they need your help or a consultant to feel relax. To reduce a fear of your dog, you can take a tasty treats and your dog's favorite toys when you visit the veterinarian or you can ask the vet to give your dog plenty of treats as well. You may ask the staff to make a fuss over your dog and give him treats. Lead or lift your dog on and off the weigh scale, giving him treats each time he gets on. If your dog learns that the clinic is a fun place to be most of the time, he’ll be a lot less concerned when it’s time for his annual physical exam.

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No, they don't know who is a vet and who isn't.

Going to the clinic is a stressful experience for many cats. Just the trip upsets some and then they get poked and prodded when they are there.

If your cat only is put in the carrier and then in the car when going to the vet, they are going to associate all of that with the stressful experience at the clinic.

I always stay as close as possible to our cats at the clinic and I try to maintain eye contact as much as possible, sometimes if the cat needs to be if it gets to be a bit more than they can handle. If I can I try to keep at least one hand on them which I think, and hope, comforts them a bit.

Don't hesitate to handle and stroke your cat at the clinic, or even pick him or her up, as long as you don't interfere with the vet's work.

Oh, a tip - when the vet is trying to listen to the cat's heart or lungs or abdomen, resist the temptation to talk to the vet. It makes if a tad difficult to hear what they want to hear. I almost always have to remind myself to shut up at those times.

Having said all of that, there are vets which perhaps the cats don't hate but there have been ones I have hated due to their treatment of one of the cats and I have twice taken a cat, put them in the carrier, and walked out of the treatment room, pay for the visit (if anything has actually been done) and never returned to that clinic.

Some vets are simply too rough and if one of our cats makes the displeasure felt by the application of one or more of his or her 19 claws, more power to him or her.

SimonT

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