Anxiety at the Vet

posted: by: Dawn, RVT Tags: "Clinic Specials" "News" 

Iatrophobia: fear of doctors or anything medical (tests, procedures, etc)

Dentophobia: fear of dentists

White coat syndrome: when a patient’s blood pressure rises in the presence of the doctor 

Most likely you or someone you know suffers from one of the above.  Fear of dentists is often talked about.  You’ve probably even heard of dental offices that can offer patients something before or during their visit to help relax the patient and ease their anxiety. 

Did you know that many cats and dogs also have anxiety when it comes to receiving medical attention? 

While it may not have an actual label, we see a number of cats and dogs who are fearful when they enter the vet’s office.  Some get anxious in the car once the owner turns onto a certain road….the pets seem to know the route to the vet!  Some get anxious when they go into the exam room.  Some are fine with the technician or assistant, but get nervous when the vet enters the room. 

Cats especially seem the most anxious at the vet’s office, often because that’s the only time they leave the house, the only time they are put in the carrier and take a car ride.  Carriers and car rides can be scary, and they can lead to a scary place where strangers do weird stuff that the pets don’t understand. 

Signs of stress/anxiety at the vet can include one or more of the following:

- excessive panting (or any panting in a cat)

- lip licking

- avoiding eye contact

- refusing treats (especially in pets who normally love snacks)

- hiding behind the owner/in the back of the carrier

- urination/defecation

- growling

- hissing/swatting

- biting

Veterinarians and their staff are trained to read a patient’s body language and will often do their best to make the experience as positive as possible while providing necessary medical treatment.

So what can you do to help your pet? 


1) Start at home by leaving your pet’s carrier out in the open.  Allow your cat to investigate and acclimate to the carrier.  Leave soft bedding in it, and even some surprise treats.  You may find your cat eventually sleeping in the carrier.  Then, the carrier doesn’t become some scary box that comes out of the basement only when it’s time to go to the vet. 

2) Use Feliway in your cat’s carrier!  Feliway towlettes to wipe inside the carrier, or the spray you can spray in the carrier a half hour before loading your kitty.  Feliway can help make the carrier more comforting and familiar to your cat. 

3) Keep noise in the car to a minimum.  Loud noise and music can upset cats who prefer a quiet environment. 

4) When you arrive at the vet, do not set your cat’s carrier on the floor.  Keep the carrier on an elevated surface.  Cats feel safer the higher they are.  This also helps avoid strange dogs from approaching the carrier and upsetting your kitty. 

5) Speak softly and move slowly in the exam room.  Sudden movements will upset kitty, even from someone familiar to them. 

6) Never ‘dump’ your cat from the carrier.  There’s nothing scarier than being dumped/shaken from the box that is now your ‘safe’ zone in this scary place that has strange sounds and smells.  Instead, if your cat does not want to come out on its own, take the top off the carrier.  Many veterinarians can examine your cat in the comfort of the bottom of the carrier. 


1) Make car rides fun!  Take car rides to other places besides the vet. 

2) Use Adaptil!  Adaptil comes in a spray that you can spray on a blanket or in your car, or even on a bandana your dog can wear.  Adaptil can help calm your dog and feel that everything is familiar and comforting. 

3) Bring your dog’s favorite treats for the veterinary staff to offer your pet. 

4) Know your dog.  If your dog is anxious around other dogs or people, offer to keep your dog outside or in your car until the veterinary staff is ready for you. 

5) Speak softly and move slowly.  Even dogs used to chaos at home can be nervous at the vet. 

Something that is important for both dogs and cats is to allow the veterinary staff to restrain/handle your pet.  They are trained in restraint/handling methods to keep pets and people safe.  Sometimes this involves sitting and observing.  Veterinary staff will invite you to give your pet attention, treats, or move where they can see you if they feel it will calm the pet.  Other times it involves removing the pet from your presence in the case of the pet protecting the owner.  Pets can even pick up on their owner’s anxiety, which increases their own anxiety.

 There are pets who require anti-anxiety medication prior to veterinary visits.  This is especially true for many dogs for nail trims.  If your veterinarian suggests that your pet would benefit from medication prior to their visit, please give your pet the medication as prescribed.  Their goal is to provide the best medical treatment as possible in as safe a manner as possible.  Pets with severe anxiety at the vet can accidently hurt themselves and the people working with them. 

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your pet’s experience at the vet, please don’t hesitate to ask the staff about it.  They are there to help you help your pet.