Low-stress handling for cats and dogs


By: Peta Gay Railton

A trip to the vet with your beloved cat or dog doesn’t have to be traumatic (for either of you). By employing low-stress handling techniques your moggy or pup can be absolutely at ease for his or her next check-up.

My team are all specifically trained in these techniques and the results make for a relaxed and happy pet, as well as a relaxed and happy pet parent!

Low-stress handling comes down to reading your pet’s body language

They may not be able to speak, but your animals will absolutely tell you how they’re feeling. You can see how a dog or cat is feeling by understanding their body language, and learning to read it. Vets become experts at it. It’s really like learning any other language.

Your body language is just as important though

When you actually focus on learning an animal’s body language, the logical corollary is that you start to think about your own body language and what you’re saying to a pet, rather than just what they’re saying to you. It’s important because you can modify your body language to give an animal confidence. Once they feel confident with you, they’ll automatically become relaxed.

In my experience, especially with dogs, once you’ve developed a dog’s confidence in you, the dog will work with you. For example, I’ve been able to take dogs to have X-rays without the need for sedation. The bottom line is that a dog will really try to please you once they trust you, and it doesn’t take that much work to get there!

Another example is trimming a dog’s nails. If you spend 15 minutes beforehand using treats and touching their feet, they’ll let you trim their nails with hardly any restraint. I’ve had this experience with dogs who have needed to be anaesthetised previously before their nails could be trimmed.

Having some consistency with your vet helps: your pets will remember

Animals remember you, just the same as you’d remember me. It’s even more amplified if they start seeing me from when they’re kittens or puppies.

Especially in the case of puppies, we form a bond, and even if I may not see that dog for another 12 months, he or she will remember me. And when you’ve formed that bond, they’re always pleased to see you.

Things you can do to calm a pet before they come in

There are definitely things you can do to calm your pet before a visit to the vet. In the case of very young, hyperactive dogs, don’t just get home from work, chuck the dog in the car and bring them in. If you do that, the dog will be bursting with energy like a teenage boy! In that case, it’s best to take your pup for a good walk beforehand, just to wear them out.

In contrast, the approach with cats needs to be ‘gently, gently’. Too frequently, we hear about people struggling to jam a cat into a carrier before their appointment.

The problem is that they keep the cat carrier hidden in the shed most of the time. When they bring it out, it’s a strange new thing to the cat. All of that means, by the time the poor cat gets to us he or she is stressed to the hilt (if, in fact, the person can even get the cat into the carrier).

A much better approach is to acclimatise your cat to the carrier. You can train a cat to love its carrier. Start by keeping the carrier in the house in a high, sunny position where the cat can find it. Encourage your cat to spend time in the carrier by putting treats, toys and a comfy flannel blanket in it. You can even take the top off the carrier, to start. If you follow these steps, your cat is going to love being in the carrier, which means that the next time you bring your cat to the vet, it will be comfortable and relaxed.

If your cat is already scared of its carrier, move its food bowls closer and closer to it, until it’s comfortable to eat right next to the carrier, and then eat in it. You can’t expect a cat to get over a phobia straight away. Depending on how scared your cat is, this process could take about three weeks, and up to eight weeks in the case of a very nervous pussycat.

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