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How to Calm a Dog Down at the Vet’s Office: 8 Expert Tips

Written by: Matt Jackson

Last Updated on March 28, 2024 by Dogster Team

vet holding a puppy

How to Calm a Dog Down at the Vet’s Office: 8 Expert Tips


Dr. Alice Athow-Frost Photo


Dr. Alice Athow-Frost

BVM BVS MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Even if our dogs are happy to visit the vet, most of us have seen anxious dogs in waiting rooms licking their lips, drooling, and possibly even letting out an anxious pee. And when it’s time to go to the examination room, they somehow make themselves weigh three times as much and point-blank refuse to enter.

In extreme cases, that anxiety can turn to reactivity. Because, as owners we care about our dog’s mental welfare as well as how others view us, we get anxious ourselves. Our anxiety heightens that of our dog and the problem just gets worse. It can make a routine checkup a nightmare.

While it is unlikely you can resolve the problem overnight, there are steps you can take to make the whole experience easier.

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The 8 Ways to Calm a Dog Down at the Vet’s Office

1. Be Prepared

It isn’t necessarily the vet that your dog is anxious about. It could be the car journey, meeting other dogs in the waiting room, or memories of a past bad experience. Prepare your dog and yourself before you make the journey. Get the carrier ready and your dog used to the carrier (if they are small enough to be carried). Try and get your dog acclimatized to getting in the car and going on journeys.

Make sure you have everything ready for the visit. Prepare questions, have any medication or other items you need to discuss with your vet, and prepare anything else you need. It will cut down the time your dog has to spend in an environment that makes it anxious.

male veterinarian examining labrador retriever dog at vet clinic
Image Credit: SeventyFour, Shutterstock

2. Visit When You Don’t Have an Appointment

If, every time your dog visits the vet they have a bad experience, they will become increasingly anxious with every visit. They will also start to recognize the signs and will start to get anxious before even arriving in the waiting room.

When you go to pick up medication or make an appointment, take your dog with you. If your vet surgery also sells treats and food, consider buying from there and taking your pup. Most vet practices are very happy to have canine patients drop in, especially if it means a less fraught time next visit. But, do make sure your vet doesn’t have a cat-only day before you pop in.

3. Socialize, Socialize, Socialize

Your dog might dislike going to the vet because he doesn’t like other dogs or has had negative experiences with other dogs while at the vet.  While you can’t change how other dogs act, you can affect how your dog reacts to them.

Socialization is essential for all dogs, and while it should ideally be started when they are young puppies, it is never too late to start.

Carefully and gradually introduce your pooch to other dogs. You can do this at dog parks, dog training classes, and with the help of friends and family. The key is to try and ensure that the experiences are positive and that they teach your dog that new encounters are nothing to fear.

4. Walk Them First

Wear your dog out before you go to the vet. Give them an extra-long walk or take them to the park and throw a ball around. Pent-up energy can make anxiety worse, and if your dog is exhausted, it’s more likely to lie down calmly and wait.

If you’re visiting the vet because of injury or illness, be careful of the type and intensity of exercise you’re offering. You don’t want to exacerbate the problem.

Woman walking a dog with lots of treats
Image Credit: absolutimages, Shutterstock

5. Get Them Used to Being Handled

And by handled, we mean poked, prodded, and otherwise manipulated. Some dogs don’t like to be handled by strangers, and some dogs don’t particularly like to be handled at all. If your pup falls into either of these categories, even a routine examination can be a difficult and harrowing experience.

At home, and while your dog is calm, conduct your own physical examination. You can use the opportunity to look for signs of injury or possible illness, or just as a chance to give your dog a massage. Start small and if your dog does get agitated, don’t push it too far.

Make the examination last a little longer each time, and make each experience positive, with lots of cuddles and treats.  All this work will mean when they get to the vet they should be less stressed out by the whole experience.

6. Stay Calm

Your dog will pick up on your mood. That means, if you’re feeling happy and calm, your dog will enjoy some of this same happiness and calmness. Understandably, going to the vet with an anxious dog can cause you anxiety, but you showing that anxiety might trigger your dog. It’s a vicious circle and one you need to break.

This means that even if your dog gets anxious and has a toilet accident, you need to remain calm and show your dog how it’s done. Don’t get frustrated, certainly don’t shout at your dog, but do let the reception staff know what’s happened.

7. Use Anti-Anxiety Aids

Anti-anxiety aids don’t have to be sedatives or drugs. There are a lot of options out there. As well as herbal and pheromone-based supplements, you can use personal anti-anxiety aids. If your dog has a cushion or blanket that calms them, take it with you. Or offer a favorite toy that you know they grab when they’re feeling anxious. If hiding under the chair is your dog’s safe place, let them hide. If you are your dog’s anti-anxiety aid, let them sit on your lap while you wait for your appointment.

If things are really bad, speak to your vet. They might be able to prescribe a mild sedative or other medication to help make visits easier for you and your dog. They can also book quieter times when there will be fewer dogs in the waiting area.

Vet checking puppy Chihuahua for chest deformities
Image Credit: OLESYA BOLTENKOVA, Shutterstock

8. Have the Vet Come to You

If your dog’s anxiety is a huge problem and one that can’t be overcome, it might be possible to have the vet visit you. Some vets make home visits, and some specialist vets offer this kind of service too.

Be aware that home visits tend to carry additional costs, and have their limitations.  There is only so much your vet will be able to do for your dog if they aren’t in the practice.   However, if it helps having your vet visit you to get your dog used to a specific person, it might be a stepping stone to a more comfortable trip the next time.

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Why Does My Dog Panic at the Vet?

Visiting the vet is essentially a series of events, many of which your dog might not be accustomed to. If they don’t get in the car often, the car journey could be the start of the problem. Then they have to face the waiting room, typically filled with other anxious or excited dogs. And the examination itself can be very stressful and sometimes uncomfortable for some dogs, as they are poked and prodded.

For dogs with ongoing issues, and that have required multiple procedures in the past, visiting the vets will remind them of how they felt after those visits. And, if you’re worried about taking your anxious dog to the vet, this will only heighten the sense of anxiety in your pup.

Is It Normal for a Dog to Be Aggressive at the Vet?

It isn’t normal or acceptable for a dog to be aggressive while at the vet, but if a dog feels especially anxious, they can react to this anxiety by being reactive. Even if your dog is otherwise placid and enjoys meeting new people and other dogs, the massive anxiety associated with a vet visit can lead to unexpected behavior.

If you’re worried, put a muzzle on your dog.  The best way to go about doing this is to take the time to muzzle train your dog.  Muzzle training even the friendliest of dogs is a good idea and is becoming a lot more popular.  Even a friendly pooch can act out at the vet’s office if it is in pain and scared.  So, ensuring your dog is comfortable wearing a muzzle is a really positive thing to do.  You can also try to book a timeslot when it is quieter. If the problem is severe, work with a behaviorist to try and minimize the issues.

male vet examining labrador retreiver dog in vet clinic
Image Credit: SeventyFour, Shutterstock

Can You Sedate a Dog for a Vet Visit?

It is possible, for severely anxious or reactive dogs, that the vet will prescribe sedatives. These are usually given in liquid or tablet form and are administered to the dog on the morning of the visit. They don’t cause a dog to sleep but they do calm them down, making it easier for you and ensuring that the vet can perform an examination safely.

However, sedatives are typically only used as a last resort because vets prefer the dogs to be responsive during the examination, and although rare, dogs can have bad reactions to any medication.

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Some dogs have no problem visiting the vet. They enjoy meeting other animals in the waiting room, love the attention of the people they meet, and relish the chance of getting at the treats and food often sold in the waiting area. Other dogs, though, suffer massive anxiety at the thought of a vet visit.

Stay calm, walk your dog before visiting, and try to desensitize them to the experience through socialization and regular visits, even when your dog doesn’t need treatment. You can also rely on anti-anxiety aids that can include favorite toys, blankets, or your lap.

And, if things are really bad, the vet might be able to prescribe a sedative, to help.

Featured Image Credit: Friends Stock, Shutterstock

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