Many dogs going to the vet are traumatised by the experience and so for my dogs I like to make sure that I do the best I can to minimise the distress for them. This involves speaking to the vet in advance, asking for certain things I think my dogs need. This is what happened to Hagrid:
1. Before setting out Hagrid had selected some calming oils (from the Wild Health shop – Caroline Ingraham Academy) and had been with those for as long as he’d needed. We took them with us in the van and he was able to smell them during the journey as and when he chose to.
2. Hagrid stayed in the van, which he is used to and where he feels safe. Being in the waiting room can raise some dogs’ anxiety levels and their owners’ too. Sometimes a family member will sit with him in the van reading a book or doing a crossword puzzle so there is no great attention on him. If I’m alone, I tell reception that we have arrived and then go back to him. The vets I see, including the dermatology referral practice, which is where Hagrid had his op, are quite happy to come to the door to let me know it’s time to go in. Hagrid is given time to sniff on his way from the van and maybe have a wee before he goes in. It only takes a minute longer, he’s not rushed and it gives him the time he needs to accept where he is going and he goes without any fuss. When dogs are given time to adjust and are not rushed or forced, I find that they accept they need to go in. This also provides a good opportunity for the vet to see how the dog moves and to observe him in general.
3. Depending on how busy the waiting room is, though generally we try to book appointments when surgery is quiet, I may ask the vet if there is another entrance to take Hagrid through. Most practices have more than one entrance and exit and vets I have asked are usually fine about this and prepared to accommodate our by-passing the waiting room. There are several reasons for doing this. Other animals can be put off by Hagrid’s size, in a confined space when they are already worried and, if their owners do not understand their animal’s level of anxiety or how best to protect them, I don’t want to add further impact to the situation and make the experience worse. The other day, when visiting the vet with Hagrid, I thought we were the last clients, having booked the appointment for that very reason, but we came out of the consulting room to be greeted by a lady with her dog sitting opposite. She was gobsmacked and said with great surprise and in a high pitched voice ‘oooooohhh isn’t he big’. Hagrid was affected by the emotional response she gave (which worried her own dog too) and he cowered rushing past her in a curve towards the door. So it was a negative experience all round. That has taught me to check first before going out as well as going in. Waiting rooms are confined areas and Hagrid and other animals need more space than is available. With the design of some waiting rooms there can be bottlenecks which make it even more difficult particularly for dogs to pass one another making it an uncomfortable experience for many. People don’t always think to move their dogs away when other animals are passing, so both animals can find this difficult, especially as they are usually restricted by short tight leads.
4. So now we are in the consulting room. I asked the vet if he could chat to me first before touching, looking at and examining Hagrid. Hagrid likes to have a look around, sniff the vet, which helps him to settle. Knowing where you are is important to help you feel safe and dogs like the same options.
5. For operations dogs are usually taken away and housed in a cage/crate/kennel. This is something that causes many dogs anxiety but sometimes it is not always recognised. Owners are told how good their dogs are and that is usually because they are frightened, the environment is so alien and they have no control over matters that they go into a state of helplessness. The best option for Hagrid was that I stayed with him until he had his pre-med and was hopefully asleep before being taken out of the consulting room on a trolley for his operation. The vet placed a large strong blanket on the floor (he weighs 90 kilos)and I sat down on it. Hagrid first sat then, eventually, lay next to me. Although it’s hard for us to remain calm at times when our dogs go to the vet that is the aim. That will really help your dog. They get cues from us all the time and we influence them so much often without knowing. Again he co-operated and was still while his back leg was shaved. Using the back leg is better for him as the shaver used is away from his ears. The noise can frighten some dogs especially if they are not used to it. When Hagrid was relaxed, we all held a corner of the blanket and lifted him onto the trolley and he was wheeled out into the operating theatre.
6. Coming round – I asked the vet to call me just before Hagrid awoke so that I was there for him and could sit with him for a while before taking him to the van. Waking up in a strange place with unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells and in pain without anyone they know being around must be extremely worrying. After sitting with him for a few minutes he started panting, which I took to be a good sign as he was able to show his feelings. I think that dogs who demonstrate reaction in some way are probably in a better state emotionally and physiologically than those who show no signs. Happily, this time, the waiting room was empty as we came out so we were able to go home and settle Hagrid in a small familiar room where he slept all night.
7. All of these things were done to minimise the trauma and reduce anxiety, which can only positively influence a dog’s recovery and experience of visiting the vet for invasive procedures. We are not able to explain to dogs what is happening and why, but taking steps to minimise distress for them is something we can all do. A few years ago, parents were not permitted to be with their children or even visit them much, while they were in hospital. It must have been traumatic for all concerned and it’s great that such regulations have changed. Like young children, our animals are unable to understand what is going on so it is up to us to influence the experience where possible, making it the best it can be.