Vet visits with a fearful dog
Whilst all of our progress was fantastic I found that I still had a terrified dog when he had to go to his local vets. Now everything you are meant to not do and avoid doing to a fearful reactive dog is guess what, exactly everything that happens when a dog goes to the vet.
Each time there was a different vet including one who proceeded to tell me during a consult that my dog ‘just has to learn it’s (physical exam) just not that scary’ which I replied – “no actually he doesn’t”. The look of complete incredulity with a good dose of ‘and just who do you think you are’ was like a smack in the face. Fortuitously that vet moved on to a new practice when the local vets were bought out by Vetwest.
On the next vet visit something remarkable happened. I rang the vet reception explaining Zander’s issues and they organised for the vet to come out to the car park and walk Zander through the back entrance to a consult room avoiding the other people and animals in reception. This was the first time anybody at the vets had offered this as an option. Before that day I didn’t even know that this was an option for a dog like Zander.
In the consult room I explained what Zander’s issues were what I was doing to assist him and the information I had received from his vet behaviourist. This vet was fantastic, he accepted what I said without judgement and completely ignored Zander. While Zander remained wary he was relaxed enough to be able to do hand touches and eat roast chicken. (whether a dog can eat or not is a great indicator of how their stress level is ie too stressed and a dog won’t eat as he’s too worried about the situation he is in) (see Dr Nicole Lobry de Bryun’s page on canine body language – https://animalsense.com.au/2017/12/18/canine-body-language/
Every other visit I’d always just accepted whichever vet was on that day. By luck every time Zander had to go to the vet he saw this same vet. I decided this was working out much better for Zander and since then where possible he gets to see the same vet.
Zander gets quite a few ear infections due to allergies and instead of handling and restraining him I show the vet photos of the insides of his ears on my phone and he gets me to take a swab of his ears. He gets put under general anaesthetic for ear flushing, toe nail clipping and obviously teeth cleaning; however Zander has been able to cope receiving injections while awake and standing up unrestrained in the consult room. Funnily enough his vet behaviourist noted that most dogs with these issues usually cope extremely well when being left unrestrained and standing. (Simone Tuten will be holding Co-Operative Care courses at Manners ’n’ More early 2018, check our website or Facebook page for details)
Since his vet has adapted to a low stress handling approach and Zander has been on his medication this has resulted in the most wonderful outcome that I thought would never be possible- Zander has decided this vet is his buddy and he hangs out with him at the clinic. Even when he has the whole clinic to himself to wander around Zander comes up and leans on him.
A couple of months ago Zander had some tumours removed and he allowed his favourite vet to remove his stitches without any sedation. He just stood in the consult room accepted me holding his head and once the stitches were out he accepted food from the vet. This is behaviour given from a dog that would be in full blown panic melt down mode but by being confined in the consult room with nobody touching him.
Recently I was able to leave Zander in the consult room with the vet while I went to pay and he didn’t panic or bark at all. Previously they have had to bring the Eftpos machine into the consult room as he would panic if I left him and he couldn’t cope in the reception area with unknown people and animals around him.
Zander has also developed relationships with all the vet nurses and it’s very clear to see who his favourites are. They all do the same thing around him – they remain calm, confident and completely ignore him which he then decides is a safe time to come up to them and lean on them or simply hang around them when they’re typing on a computer etc and they never try to pat him.
The vet nurses have also stuck up for his needs in the past when a couple of the other nurses have not accepted what he needed- like not being brought out to a busy reception area and instead they insisted I get walked out the back to collect Zander (even if it meant we exited via the laundry due to other dogs receiving treatment out the back) and even walk us to the car if there are other people around. Zander has progressed now where the vet nurses can bring him out from the kennels to the back door for me to walk him to the car; and if there is a chance of someone showing up they walk with us to the car.
Recently Zander was seriously ill and had to go to a specialist vet. Thankfully Dr Nicole spoke to the vet and explained what Zander’s needs were and ensured they modified their usual way of handling and anaesthetising dogs to minimise his fear.
Last week Zander had his first appointment with one of his favourite vet nurses where he got used to hanging out with her around nail clippers and eating chicken. While it is early days I’m looking forward to seeing how he progresses and whether he will be eventually able to feel comfortable to having his nails clipped without having to be put under general anaesthetic. (link of video of visit)
Seeing Zander being able to form relationships with the vet and nurses is deeply rewarding, and reduces the amount of stress to me and distress to Zander. What I also love about it is seeing how happy and satisfied the staff are at the incredible progress they have achieved with Zander and how committed they are to going at his pace in incremental steps and their investment in providing such a high quality of care to him.
Two weeks ago the nurse had two people in reception minus animals move to the furthered seats away from the consult room and I was able to walk Zander through reception and out to the car with zero reaction. Now this is a dog who is always reactive to people he doesn’t know which goes a long way to show just how much this approach is working.
By taking things slowly, always having a plan and putting Zander’s stress levels as the top priority he is improving with every visit little by little. Now everything isn’t perfect and each vet visit requires a thoughtful approach but with each experience I see Zander improving and being able to cope just that little bit more each time. Don’t get me wrong I’m in no doubt Zander is and always will be a fearful dog; however his stress threshold, ability to self-calm and bounce back continues to improve.
Colleen’s notes: It is never in the best interest of a dog to be ‘manhandled’ in the veterinary clinic, nor is it best industry practice to do so. The veterinary field has advanced to accomodate Low Stress or Fear Free handling in the clinic. If you have a dog like Zander, who has special needs, seek a clinic that employs these methods, better yet become involved in some ‘Fear FreeWorkshops’ or Co-Operative Care lectures. After all it is up to us to assist our dogs where possible and to help our veterinary staff treat our dogs/animals as effectively and safely as possible.
Should you find yourself in the position where a vet or vet nurse is doing something to your dog that you may not feel comfortable about, ask them to stop and explain what is happening and why they are choosing this approach, be your dogs advocate and if you still feel uncertain collect your dog and find a new clinic.
I am also mindful that some situations with dogs are emergency and out of the realm of normal, again seek out in advance clinics that employ fear free or low stress handling techniques just as Annabelle did for Zander.