Many pets that we meet as veterinarians are happy to see us, but there are also plenty that have a hard time at the veterinarian. Understandably, it can be a stressful time for animals who are not used to being poked for vaccines and palpated for their exams. Some patients may also be very sick or not feeling completely themselves when they come to us for a visit. It can be tough as a veterinarian to feel like you are causing more stress or scaring the animals you’ve worked your whole life to protect. This is where our veterinary knowledge of behavior can come in handy.
It is unfair to expect every patient to be completely well behaved in the clinic because each pet comes from a different background. Maybe they are working on training, or working on socialization, or working on becoming more trusting of people or other pets. It is in our patients’ best interest to ask questions rather than label patients as “difficult” without trying to understand their situation. There are still some pets, however, whose stress level is only mitigated by mild sedation for exams. This can be a double-edged sword in a healthy pet because sedation does have some inherent risk. However, it can be such a valuable tool for getting a thorough examination of your pet and having a baseline to go from should your pet ever get sick. Our annual, or sometimes more frequent, exams are our chance to learn about your pet from a medical standpoint, to put our hands on any problem and identify it, and also to catch small problems before they become big, even life-threatening ones. Because our pets cannot tell us with words what hurts or how they feel, finding out a way to get a good exam in, whether with sedation or further behavior training is an integral part of advocating for and providing best practices to our patients.