Over 80% of dogs and cats experience fear and anxiety when they visit the vet’s office. Why is this important? Fearful and scared patients may not be able to be examined as thoroughly, and may not be able to have needed testing like a blood draw. They may have fear-based aggression which is a safety risk to not only staff, but also themselves and to the owners handling them. On top of this, it is not great for the patients to be experiencing so much stress!

So what does fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS) look like in dogs and cats? They can both display a range of behaviors.

For dogs:

  • Excessive pacing, activity, jumping, and not relaxing
  • Panting when there is no reason to pant like hot temperature or exercise
  • Yawning
  • Lip-licking
  • “Wet dog” shaking when not wet
  • Hiding and trying to move away
  • Freezing with stiff posture
  • A hard stare or side-eye
  • Struggling and flailing during restraint
  • Raising their lip (snarling)
  • Growling, barking, lunging
  • Warning snaps or biting

For cats:

  • Hiding and trying to move away
  • Not coming out of the carrier
  • Trying to “tuck” and make themselves small
  • Wide eyes and dilated pupils
  • Struggling and flailing during restraint
  • Ears back
  • Hissing, growling
  • Swatting, attempting to bite

Some signs are more subtle. If you ever want help assessing your pet’s fear level at the office, just ask the veterinary staff. Veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and many other staff members are trained to assess each patient’s level of stress for both the patient’s welfare and our safety.

One of our goals during your pet’s visit is to make them as comfortable as possible, in addition to achieving the best exam and necessary testing. There are many methods we use including different handling techniques, calming pheromones, positive training, and treats and food. One tool is “Pre-Visit Medications”. (These may also be called pre-visit pharmaceuticals, short-acting anxiety medications, and pre-meds; among other terms).

Pre-visit medications are given to a pet to reduce their anxiety, make them more comfortable, improve ease of handling for owners and staff, and facilitate better exams and testing. There are a variety of medications we use depending on the patient, health conditions, level of fear, and individual patient response. These medications include but are not limited to: trazodone, gabapentin, clonidine, acepromazine, and dexmedetomidine (Sileo). Specific recommendations and methods can be made by your veterinarian.

Will the medication make your dog sedated or have other side effects? Some of the medications may make your pet a little sleepy, especially when they are at home. Your pet may seem sedated until they actually come into the vet office where they are more nervous. Most of the time, the goal is not excessive sedation – and in the worst case, we would prefer that our patients are feeling sleepy instead of feeling terrified. Other types of side effects are limited and rare in normal healthy patients, but any veterinarian who is prescribing these medications will select them with your pet’s health in mind, and can discuss any concerns.

Sometimes pre-visit medications may be recommended even if your pet is not highly fearful or aggressive. Your pet may be experiencing more subtle signs (such as the panting, avoidance, or hiding behaviors), and intervening BEFORE they become more fearful is important as well!

We commonly use these tools at Montgomery Animal Hospital to achieve the best visit for you and your pet. If you would like to discuss adding pre-visit medications into your pet’s visit, please feel free to call our office or schedule a behavioral consultation.

Here are resources on FAS in the veterinary setting, as well as using pre-visit medications: