How to Handle a Nervous Pet

The German shepherd wedges itself into the corner, growling nervously in fear.

The owner is nervous, herself. “He’s not always like this,” she says apologetically. “I don’t know why he’s being so aggressive.” She sighs.

“I guess he must not like going to the vet.”

It’s a scene stereotypically associated with veterinary visits, and not without reason. Many animals (and their owners) are nervous when they visit veterinary offices. They’re in an unfamiliar place; they’re surrounded by creatures they don’t know; sometimes, they’re subjected to things they don’t like.

For veterinarians, dealing with nervous animals is a common occurrence and a necessary skill. If you can win the friendship of an animal, you often win the approval of their owner – and you establish an easier path to good care.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few tips to help you handle nervous pets.


  1. Use Treats Effectively

The quickest path to someone’s heart is through their stomach. It’s true for many people; it’s true for animals, too. There’s no denying the efficacy of treats in winning over a nervous animal’s affection.

There’s a bit of subtlety to offering treats correctly, though.

Use treats to establish trust.

You can offer treats at the beginning of the interaction. Coupled with approachable body language, treats can break down barriers in a nervous pet.

Don’t use treats to reward bad behavior.

Establishing friendship is good, but you don’t want to reward bad behavior every time it happens. Doing that will only enforce it – so, you may want to refrain from offering a treat each time an animal whines.

Use treats as a distraction.

Offering a pet a treat before an unpleasant activity (like a shot) can provide a helpful distraction and keep the pet content. You may consider a particularly crunchy or chewy treat for a larger dog. Or, if that doesn’t seem appealing, putting a gel-based treat on the nose of a pet can keep them occupied, too.

Don’t use treats without an understanding of the medical situation.

Of course, you don’t want to use treats if they’ll be harmful to an animal – if a cat has diabetes, or if a dog has an allergy to a certain type of food. That’s nearly a given, of course, but it’s always worth remembering. Make sure to be aware of the medical profile of your patient before offering them a treat.


  1. Develop the Right Actions and Mannerisms

Of course, treats are just one route to easing the nerves of an anxious animal. And the effects can wear off quickly when the treats are gone. That’s why veterinarians need to work on developing approachable, friendly mannerisms and acting appropriately based on the situation.

There are many tricks of the trade, and each isn’t always appropriate for every animal in every situation. But, these tend to be effective:

Squat to get on the pet’s level when greeting them. This will make you less intimidating, and give you the ability to maneuver more than a sitting position allows.

Don’t put large dogs on the table if you don’t need to. Veterinary tables are unfamiliar places for pets. They generally aren’t used to being that exposed, or to being that tall in relation to humans. That can make them fearful; so, don’t put them on the table if you can treat them on the floor.

Sometimes, though, putting a pet on the table can get them out of their comfort zone and actually make them easier to deal with. Read the pet, and use the table appropriately.

Keep the owner in the room. Most often, pets are comforted by the presence of their owner in the room. So, don’t send them out unnecessarily.

However, some pets may be calmer in the owner’s absence – either because the owners are anxious themselves, or because the pets feel the confidence to be aggressive when the owners are in the room. Again, let the situation dictate your actions.


  1. Make the Waiting Room Friendly

Sometimes, the nervousness in an animal isn’t the result of anything happening in the exam room. Instead, it’s a byproduct of an unpleasant waiting room experience.

If your waiting room is crowded with various types of pets, and if your patients are waiting a substantial amount of time to be seen, you may need to take action to make the situation less stressful.

Consider moving certain patients (overly-friendly dogs or frightened cats) into rooms a bit sooner than you otherwise would. Better to have a patient secluded in the exam room for fifteen extra minutes then to have a crowded, anxiety-inducing waiting room.

If long waits and crowds of patients are the norm more than the exception in your office waiting room, you’ll want to take the steps to reduce wait times. Either way, it’s important to be aware of the ways in which your waiting room may contribute to the nerves of your patients.


  1. Normalize Your Office with Routines

Finally, a great way to reduce animal anxiety is to establish your office as a safe place by encouraging routines.

For many pets, the veterinary office is a place that’s only associated with negative things. Going to the veterinarian means feeling uncomfortable, or getting a shot, or being around strange animals and people.

In fact, many pets even associate cars with unpleasant circumstances, because they only get in the car to go to the vet. If that’s the case, your patients are getting nervous before they even start the journey to your office.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. It may be helpful for your clients to introduce their pets to the car in other contexts – so, encourage them to bring their animal along for a road trip, or on a trip to a friend’s (but also make sure that they understand the dangers of leaving their pet unattended in a hot car).

And, you can even encourage your clients to bring their pets in just to say hi! If your patients are stopping by when they’re not sick to receive treats and friendly attention, they’ll be much less nervous in your office during actual appointments.

“Going to the vet” doesn’t have to be negative – it can be part of a positive, normal routine.

Make Friends With Your Patients

The checkup is over, and the owner is visibly relieved.

“You really were able to calm him down,” she says. The German shepherd wags its tail in agreement and nuzzles your hand.

The owner smiles. “In fact, it looks like you’ve got a new best friend.”

As a veterinarian, you win the hearts of owners and pets alike by improving your ability to calm nervous animals. Hopefully, these tips will help!

Want to become a great veterinarian? At VPR, we strive to help veterinarians work as effectively as possible. That’s why we’ve created VPR Cloud.

VPR Cloud is the only veterinary reference built by veterinarians, for veterinarians. It’s a dependable, easy-to-use drug reference that makes providing high-quality care easier.

You can store information about every animal you treat, so you’ll easily be able to track current and previous prescriptions (and keep track of the animals that can or can’t have treats).

You can save time on administrative elements, instead of spending time manually referencing a drug index. And, VPR Cloud allows you to easily provide your client with an information sheet, featuring the most current accurate information about the medications you may be prescribing.

VPR Cloud will cut administrative time, allowing you to focus more time on calming nervous pets.

Get in touch with us online to find out how VPR Cloud can help you.