Separation anxiety dogs at the vets: 6 things you need to do

Last year, I took my dog in for elective dental treatment. While he’s long recovered from his separation anxiety, I’m always wary of situations that might cause regressions. Vet visits – especially those involving treatment – can be scary for any animal, let alone a separation anxiety dog.

When you have a dog with separation anxiety, you realize that simple things (like a vet visit) start to get complicated. There are ways to alleviate some of the stress. First, we need to take a step back and understand the struggle.

Why do separation anxiety dogs struggle at the vet?

Separation anxiety dogs fear two things the most: being alone and being crated. Vet visits create a perfect storm of both of these factors. Dogs are occasionally left alone “out the back” as they wait for treatment, have tests or recover from treatments, and it’s common to crate them as they come round from sedatives or anesthetic.

But, is it a big deal if your dog fears the vet? If you have a separation anxiety dog, the answer is “yes”.  Separation anxiety dogs often get worse when they’ve had fear-inducing, over-threshold experiences. I’ve seen lots of dogs return from vet visits with significant regression.

What can you do to make vet visits less stressful?

The dental treatment my dog had was a success. Not only were his teeth sparkling but he didn't suffer any regression in his anxiety. I was lucky enough to work with a wonderful, sympathetic vet who understood Percy's particular needs. Here's what I learned about how to make the process work.

1. Talk to your vet.

Letting your vet know about your dog’s separation anxiety is key. Not only can they help provide general advice about how to treat separation anxiety, they can also work with their team to limit the amount of isolation and crating your dog experiences.

2. Break treatment and recuperation into steps.

One of the main reasons your dog will be isolated is that blood tests, samples, X-rays and so on can be done most efficiently if the hospital can take the dog and perform those procedures according to their schedule. This may mean a great deal of waiting solo.

If the treatment is elective/non-urgent, ask your veterinary clinic if the procedures can split into smaller, one-off appointments. Another option is to see if the clinic can condense the procedures into a shorter window and do them all together while you wait in reception, ready to take your dog home asap.

See if you can break down the treatment into steps that are more comfortable for your dog.

3. Ask about anti-anxiety medications for your dog’s visits.

Giving your dog a short-acting anti-anxiety medication may help alleviate some of his panic leading to a smoother vet visit. The sedatives your vet will give you for home use are typically given orally. The dose can be timed in advance of the appointment. These are the types of medications that are often prescribed to people who have a fear of flying or a fear of the dentist.

For surgery itself, ask your vet to sedate your dog before anesthesia. And ask if you can stay with him while he’s being sedated. Once he’s more settled, you can leave him in the capable hands of the vet and vet techs.

4. Clarify if your dog will be left alone at any point.

Your dog is most likely to panic when he’s left alone without sedation and not under full anesthesia. Clarify if he’ll be left alone at any point, and ask if someone could be around for those times. Even a vet tech writing up cases notes nearby would be a help.

5. See if your vet can avoid using a crate.

Crating is often used for safety purposes when your groggy dog comes round after sedation or anesthetic. Depending on the procedure, your vet may be open to keeping him out of the crate, so it’s worth asking.

6. Ask your vet how quickly you can take him home.

Some vets will prioritize discharging an anxious patient. They’ll let you take him home as soon as it’s safe to do so, rather than waiting to end of the practice day.

See how soon you will be allowed to take your dog home.

What if it’s an emergency?

Of course, if it’s an emergency much of these practices are just not possible. In all cases, the emergency must take precedence over his anxiety, but you can still inquire about recovery and timing to help with the transition post-emergency.

Physical and mental health, not “either/or”

A growing number of vets are beginning to understand the impact of a fear-filled vet visit. These vets commit do doing what they can to make your dog’s visit more bearable.  

Remember, physical health of your dog is vital to mental well-being. While his anxiety does matter, don’t let it prevent you from booking those much-needed vet appointments!

Do you want to learn more about managing your dog’s separation anxiety in everyday life? Contact me for a FREE consultation!