How many people like going to the doctor? How many owners avoid regular health checkups because they do not like the doctor visits for many reasons? The whole white coat syndrome is quite well documented in people. Years ago, when I was practicing in Maryland, I had a family come in with a small boy who started screaming and crying when I came in the room (with my doctor coat on). I looked at the parents who explained that they had just adopted him from Eastern Europe and he had to have lots of injections before coming over the USA. I left the room and took off my coat, he was a little happier when I returned. Glad to say that the following year when they came for their annual visit, he was a happy well-adjusted boy.
So, what can we do to decrease the stress level of our pets when they come to see the doctor? A few simple things if they are young animals, take them to the veterinary office just for a visit. Ask your doctor if you can come and sit in the office without an appointment, just to get the pet used to being there. During visits like these, the available vet techs and doctors will come out and love on the pet. This works better with dogs; we recommend this to owners with fearful dogs, too. We like to give biscuits to make them see us as a cookie jar. (Who doesn't like cookies?) Think about it, if every time you went somewhere you got poked and prodded would you want to go? It was this reason that made me dislike my orthodontist when I was little; I had to have lots of teeth pulled and he was not my favorite person.
Cats can be a little more difficult as they usually do not travel much. You can get your cat used to the carrier by leaving it around the house and allowing him to go in and out of it as he likes. Some owners have even found that hiding cat treats in the carrier encourages the cat to view the carrier as a happy place. Once a cat gets used to the carrier then you might want to take the cat for short trips then come back home. This shows the cat that not all trips in the carrier are bad trips especially if there is some yummy treat for him when the cat returns home. There are also pheromone sprays that you can use to help calm the animal when he has to go in the carrier. Again, more trips without anything bad happening will build confidence in your pet. If you can find a treat that your cat likes, that would be beneficial to bring on your visit to the veterinarian.
We as professionals should try to help your pet be calmer also. We try to make the waiting room a fun place, we have treat samples up front and the television on so that the pets (and owners) can feel a bit more at home. We try to have everything we need ready before your pet comes into the examination room so that he will not have to be in the room any longer than necessary. When we examine large dogs, we often do so on the floor so that they do not get too scared on the table. We have not yet figured out how to make the scale less scary. It is after all just a piece of metal, but none of us girls like the scale either.
We try to educate our owners so that they will play with the pet's feet, ears and mouth so that they get used to things being done, and especially nail trims. If your pet gets too nervous and worked up, some doctors may suggest anesthesia or sedation for the procedure. This is more for the pet, to reduce his stress than for any other reason. Many owners are leery of anesthesia, but this is an option for the extremely fearful pet. Discuss this with your veterinarian to make an informed decision. Our goal as a profession is to be able to provide the best medical care for your pet with the least stress on everyone, especially the pet, and the owner.