What Dogs Need From Us: Veterinary Medical Care

Continuing with my short series about what our dogs need from us, today I want to address medical care.  It seems like a no-brainer, but for folks who have difficult dogs who are either aggressive or anxious or have excessive fears, a simple vet visit can be a real nightmare!  Just for a simple annual exam, Rugby typically needs a couple of recovery days at home after a simple visit.  He’s stressed up one side and down the other, and needs time and space at home to come back to himself.

018When you have a special needs dog, finding an understanding and qualified vet might take a bit of work.  Just because you’ve used a particular vet for years, doesn’t mean that each one of your dogs will respond well to that vet or clinic staff.  It’s important that you and your dog really trust the vet professional who will be examining your dog and treating him.

I feel so incredibly blessed with my vet.  She really seems to understand who Rugby is, and she makes all kinds of special accommodations to make him feel as comfortable as possible.  She has a wonderful, well trained staff, who are all very kind and understanding when Rugby is there for his visits.

Dr. Frazier doesn’t wear a white coat when she examines Rugby, because he’s not sure about those white coats at all.  She wears her street clothes to examine him, and he sees her as a weird friend who gets a bit personal with him.  When she comes to examine him, she immediately sits down, and chats for a bit, getting some basic information and letting Rugby adjust to her in the room.  She does some very simple touches, while Rugby sits on my lap.  He’s always a bit suspicious, and he’s definitely on guard.  She pretty much does her entire exam with Rugby on my lap, because that’s what he’s comfortable with and he tolerates it very well.

When I’m ever in doubt about him being comfortable with any part of the exam, I suggest that we muzzle him.  I use a muzzle from time to time with Rugby anyway, so it’s not only used at the vet’s office, and he’s comfortable wearing it.  We try to get by without it as much as possible, but I’m just not comfortable with a blood draw from a front leg….and Dr. Frazier’s beautiful face just inches from my nervous and high strung dog!

When Rugby has had to have his teeth cleaned, and then again when he had to have a small tumor removed from his mouth, Dr. Denise made such amazing accommodations for Rugby it just warmed my heart from top to bottom!  The first time, she called me 20 minutes before they were ready for Rugby, so that he didn’t have to sit at her office and worry all day until they could clean his teeth.  The second time, she gave him the first appointment for surgery, so he was able to get right in without waiting.

Both times, I was allowed to hold him while the sedative kicked in, and then while they gassed him until he was asleep in my arms.  As soon as he was asleep, she let me wait in the waiting room while she did his procedures. Once he was in recovery, she called me to come, and I got to sit with him while he woke up.  So from Rugby’s perspective, I was with him the entire time, and it sure made things far less stressful for him…and ultimately also for me, because what dog owner wants to see their dog terrorized at the vet’s office?  Not this one for sure!

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Some things to try to make your vet visit less stressful:

  • Set up your appointments on slow days when there aren’t a lot of other patients in the office.  Special needs dogs need plenty of time to adjust to changes….the office….staff….the exam room, etc.
  • Have your dog wait outside until they are ready for him so that he’s not encountering strangers, barking and weird smells.
  • Walk your dog in the parking lot and tire him out a bit before you go into the office.  All that walking gives him something else to think about and the exercise takes the edge off your dog’s nerves…and probably yours too!
  • Bring some of your dog’s favorite treats, and be quick to offer a nibble when he’s tolerating the exam.
  • Use a happy, cheerful voice while you talk to your dog.  Give him lots of encouragement!
  • I always dress Rugby in his Thundershirt, and it helps a whole lot.
  • If your dog knows some simple, basic commands, it can help give them something to do, which helps keep them from being nervous.  I work Rugby on some tricks while we’re in the exam room waiting.  It really helps to transition him into more calm behavior for the exam.
  • Be sure to tell the staff that your dog is shy or aggressive or fearful.  No one wants that kind of surprise….especially your dog.
  • A favorite toy or blanket can help soothe a dog with something familiar.
  • After the visit, get your dog to the car right away and then settle up so that your dog won’t be surprised by staff or patients while you’re pre-occupied with payments or follow-up visits.
  • Try doing some extra “friendly” vet visits, where all that happens is that your dog comes into the office, gets some treats from the staff….even if they have to throw them to your dog, and come home!  That way he learns that he’s not always going to be poked and prodded when he goes to the vet.  Bring something really high value….like chicken or hot dogs to use as treats.

Remember that all dogs are different!  What works well for Rugby and I may not work for you, so try some things until you can hit on the formula that works for you, your dog and your vet.



  1. Mike says

    Love the advice regarding the extra "friendly" vet visits. Such a creative idea and a great way to help your dog think of the vet as a lot friendlier place.

    • Sally says

      For special needs dogs, nothing is "routine"....including vet visits. Trying to make them less stressful can save a dog bite, and make the whole experience more positive!


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