Anxieties about veterinary visits can and should be addressed

My dog Keeper used to be a brown-and-white tornado on the exam table at the veterinary hospital. He’s a nice boy otherwise, and I don’t know what it was in his past life that made him fear being on top of the table, but it has always been a struggle for veterinarians to examine him because he’s trying so hard to escape.

Lots of people have the same problem with their dogs and cats. Some animals are so fearful that they tremble, cry, defecate or throw up in the car on the way to the veterinary clinic. We are lucky that Keeper enjoys car rides and even going into the clinic; he just doesn’t like being on the exam table. Nonetheless, I wanted to make veterinary visits more pleasant for him, not to mention easier on the vets and staff who had to handle him.

My fellow Pet Connection columnist Dr. Marty Becker has been concerned about this problem for a long time. It’s what inspired him to found Fear Free, which trains vets, technicians and other animal professionals to recognize, reduce and prevent fear in animals who come to the clinic for care.

“Veterinarians love pets, and we want them to feel comfortable and loved when they visit us, but the strange sights and smells they encounter at the veterinary clinic can be a big turnoff and even frighten them,” he says.

Keeper’s veterinarian had already been using one Fear Free technique – sitting on the floor – when he examined Keeper. The past couple of visits, I remembered to bring treats or to grab some out of the jar at the clinic, and they were a game-changer.

Last week, my husband set Keeper on top of the exam table, and he started to spin around like crazy, trying to escape. I started handing him treats nonstop. That got his attention – and kept it. The veterinary technician came in to take his temperature, and I’m not sure he even noticed. As long as I was holding treats, he focused on them and nothing else.

Keeper will eat anything, but Dr. Becker likes to offer something special. Speaking at the 2017 conference of the American Veterinary Medical Association, he said: “Food is currency in a pet’s world. You’ve got to have really good treats. Pet-Tabs are a penny in a pet’s mind, but they don’t normally get hot deli turkey or bacon-cheese-flavored squeeze cheese.”

For pets who are extremely fearful, preparation for veterinary visits can begin as much as a week in advance with what Dr. Becker calls “a magic carpet ride of pheromones.” Spray or wipe down the pet’s carrier regularly with the chemical concoctions that simulate the soothing substances mother dogs excrete or the markers that cats use to make a place or person feel familiar. Line carriers with fleece blankets that have also been treated with pheromones. That helps the car ride be less frightening.

We used another Fear Free technique on this most recent visit. I went inside to check us in while my husband waited in the car with the dogs. They didn’t enter the clinic until an exam room was ready for them, so there was no sitting around in the lobby and allowing anxiety to build up.

I don’t know whether Keeper will ever love being on an exam table, but it’s sure a lot easier now to have him on one. As long as I remember to bring treats, I may no longer have to warn vets and techs to hang on to him so he doesn’t try to flee over the edge.

Q: Someone told me that the essential oils I use in our home could be harmful to my pets. Do I need to be concerned, and what should I do if my pets come in contact with them?

A: Essential oils are everywhere, it seems, used to scent homes in the form of liquid potpourri and in homemade cleaning solutions and remedies. Pets can experience chemical burns or other toxic effects if they lick up spilled oils or if the oils are applied to their skin.

Among the essential oils that are toxic to pets are cinnamon, citrus, lemon, pennyroyal, peppermint, pine, sweet birch, tea tree, thyme, wintergreen and ylang ylang. Never apply any concentrated essential oil to a pet’s skin.

Exposure to even a small amount can cause problems such as difficulty breathing or walking, drooling, lethargy, muscle tremors, pawing at the mouth or face, vomiting, or redness or burns at the affected area.

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with