Dog with paw over nose showing fear of the vet

Why pet owners are switching to online vet care with Dutch

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Going to the vet can be stressful for both you and your dog. Many dogs don't like the vet and behave out of character whenever they're in the vet's office. In most cases, dogs don't like the vet because they're afraid. 

A recent study found that 38% of guardians believe their dog hates going to the vet.1 Going to the vet can be stressful for dogs, especially those afraid of the vet. Unfortunately, this means many pet parents also get stressed going to the vet. Some may even opt out of taking their dog to their yearly wellness visit to avoid stress. 

Taking your dog to the vet is part of being a pet parent, and dogs must be able to tolerate getting care. But, unfortunately, many don't, which leaves them at risk of illness and injury. So if you're reading this thinking, "My dog hates the vet," you're not alone. But why do dogs hate the vet, and what can you do about it? Keep reading to learn more about why dogs don't like the vet and how you can reduce their stress to ensure they get the care they need.

38% of dog owners believe their dog hates the vet

Why Do Dogs Hate The Vet?

Why don't dogs like the vet? It's most likely due to fear. A recent study on the risk factors determining a dog's fear during vet visits found that 41% of subjects exhibited mild to moderate fearful behavior when examined by a vet, and 1 in 7 dogs showed extreme fear.1 Anxious body language at the vet clinic, such as cowering, lip licking, and aggression, may be due to several potential factors, including fear of the unfamiliar, people, touch sensitivities, pain, and non-social fear. The same study showed that dogs employed in working, breeding, or showing, had less fear of the vet, while companion animals were more likely to fear the unknown and the vet.1

The dog's background was also a predictor of fear during vet visits. For example, dogs acquired from friends and family, pet stores, shelters and rescues, and strays were more fearful at the vet. They also had higher tough sensitivity and non-social fear.1 Conversely, dogs bred by their guardian were less fearful.1 

Additionally, researchers examined whether dog size played a role in their fear of the vet and observed that lighter and small dogs had higher fear scores than heavier or larger dogs. Smaller dogs were also more vocal during observation than larger dogs.1 Meanwhile, living situation was another factor. For example, dogs in single-dog households were more fearful. The pet parent's experience was also examined, and the study determined that experienced guardians were less likely to have dogs with high fear responses.1

41% of dogs display mild to moderate fearful behavior when examined by a veterinarian

So why do dogs hate going to the vet? Unfortunately, there are several potential reasons. The study analyzed fear of the unfamiliar, touch sensitivity, and non-social fear, including fear of objects or loud noises. Therefore, it's not necessarily that dogs hate the vet. Instead, anxiety at the vet can occur for several potential reasons, including the following: 

Past Experiences

Why are dogs afraid of the vet? It might be due to an unpleasant experience in the past. Many vets now invest in Fear-Free practices to prevent unpleasant experiences. Instead of making a fearful dog more fearful by strapping them to a table or holding them down, they want pets to feel safe in their clinics. But, of course, a dog could have had a past experience with a vet who handled them too roughly, or they had a bad experience with a man, and the vet happens to be male. 

It may also not be due to the vet at all. When your dog doesn't feel well, they feel more insecure and anxious. They might associate those feelings with going to the vet for treatment. Unfortunately, you can't erase a dog's bad past experiences, but you can help them feel less anxious at the vet. Ultimately, your dog takes cues from you. If you're stressed, they know it and will become stressed. How you react to your pet can affect how they behave and feel, so if your dog notices you getting stressed every time you take them to the vet, they will be stressed, too. 

Additionally, a dog can associate pain with the vet. For example, if your dog has had surgery at the vet or gets poked with a needle every time they see the vet, they won't enjoy the experience very much. 

Unfamiliar Environments

Even people have a fear of the unknown. When your dog goes to the vet, they're in an unfamiliar environment, making them feel insecure. At the vet, these feelings can worsen because they're around new people and potentially other pets in the waiting room. Even if your dog doesn't see another pet, you can be sure they smell them, which can make their anxiety worse. 

Some dogs are afraid of strangers and other dogs, so going to the vet can be scary because it means meeting strangers and other pets. Unfamiliar smells and sights can make an anxious dog even more nervous, making it challenging to help them stay calm. Unfortunately, this is unavoidable any time you go to the vet. Vet techs and vets must approach you and your dog to provide them with care. 

Separation Anxiety

Many pet parents drop their pets off at the vet for one reason or another. Maybe they have to run errands or believe their pet does better at the vet without them there. In any case, being left alone in a new environment can scare dogs and make them even more fearful. 

Pet parents are also separated from their pets during treatments like surgery, which can result in separation anxiety that exacerbates their fear. 

Forced Interaction

Dogs don't like forced interaction, which is why you should never stick your hand out upon meeting a new dog — they could see it as a threat. Therefore, if your dog isn't used to wearing a muzzle, they might get scared when a vet puts one on them. Additionally, they might have touch sensitivity, which makes them afraid of being touched by anyone other than the regular people in their life. 

Any forced interaction can trigger anxiety in dogs, even if it's for their own good. For example, a vet tech must touch their paws if your dog needs their nails trimmed. Unfortunately, many dogs don't like their paws touched, so the experience can increase anxiety and make the dog even more fearful. 

Noises

Noises are a non-social fear in dogs that can increase their fear of the vet. At the vet, loud noises like barking, talking, and footsteps outside the door can make pets fearful. Unfortunately, these noises are unavoidable and are just a part of being at the vet. Many dogs experience non-social fear from noises. For example, your dog might become anxious during loud storms or fireworks and react similarly to the sounds at the vet. 

Understanding Situational Anxiety & Systematic Desensitization

You can't avoid the vet to prevent your dog's anxiety. While it might be stressful to see your dog fearful, they need regular care and treatment. However, there are several ways to help your dog stay calm. It's important to remember that fear of the vet is situational anxiety. Your dog only experiences this type of fear at the vet or during other situations like fireworks. Situational anxiety occurs due to a trigger, and unfortunately, depending on your dog, almost anything can be a trigger. With a vet visit, the trigger might be getting in the car, waiting outside the vet's office, or seeing the vet. 

Most pet parents know when their dog is anxious because of their behavior. Common signs of anxiety in dogs include: 

  • Inappropriate elimination
  • Panting
  • Excessive barking
  • Pacing
  • Restlessness
  • Aggression
  • Cowering2

It's not uncommon for well-behaved dogs to display signs of aggression at the vet's office due to forced touching. For example, a dog might snap when getting their nails trimmed. 

Many dogs experience fear in response to a trigger or situation, and fear usually occurs from a lack of exposure to the stimulus or due to a bad experience.3 Of course, you can't erase your dog's past, but you can make them less fearful of the stimulus going forward. 

Systematic desensitization is a dog anxiety training method used to make dogs feel more confident and less fearful in certain situations. For example, you can make your dog less fearful of noises like fireworks and thunderstorms or address other situational anxiety issues like going to the vet using desensitization. Desensitization consists of gradually increasing levels of the fear-inducing stimulus while the dog remains calm.4 

Typically, desensitization uses food, petting, and toys to reward calm behavior and help your dog associate the stimulus with something more positive.4 

Systematic desensitization is a long, time-consuming process, but it has been proven effective at reducing fear and anxiety in people and pets.5 While we used the example of thunderstorm desensitization, the same process can be used to desensitize your dog to the vet. 

Knowing your dog's threshold is crucial. It can take some dogs much longer to reach their threshold than others. For example, a dog may be comfortable with the vet as soon as they walk into the office. However, once the vet starts touching them, they can become fearful. 

Desensitization relies on knowing your dog's threshold and knowing when to take it back to calming levels before increasing them again, slowly helping to train your dog to be less afraid. Unfortunately, once your dog becomes so stressed and surpasses their threshold, it may be too difficult to keep them calm. Keeping dogs under threshold is crucial, especially around other people and pets, because scared dogs can become aggressive. 

26% of pet parents say their pet’s vet anxiety causes them stress

What To Do If Your Dog Doesn't Want To Go To The Vet?

In the same study we mentioned earlier, 26% of pet parents say their pet's vet anxiety causes them stress .1 Taking a stressed, fearful, and anxious pet to the vet is stressful because you never know how your dog will react. Some become aggressive, while others quiver and shake, which can be scary for pet parents. 

Vet visits are essential to preventive care. Your pet must see the vet yearly and may require additional treatments, especially if they're puppies or seniors. Unfortunately, taking an anxious pet to the vet can be difficult for pet parents, and many try to avoid the vet altogether, which can be dangerous for their pets. So why are dogs afraid of the vet? Their pet parent's stress of taking them to the vet could make them more fearful. So what do you do if your dog doesn't want to go to the vet or reacts aggressively or fearfully when at the vet? There are a few solutions, including the following:

Anxiety Medication

Many dogs experience vet-related anxiety for a range of reasons. However, anxiety medication can help them get through the visit more calmly while preventing aggressive behavior. Depending on their level and type of anxiety, there are several types of prescription anxiety meds for dogs your vet might suggest. For example, your vet might prescribe daily anxiety medication to reduce your dog's stress if they're overly anxious in everyday situations, like seeing people and other pets on walks. In addition, they may prescribe short-term anxiety medication for situational anxiety like thunderstorms and vet visits. 

Practice Desensitization 

You can treat anxiety from home by practicing desensitization with your dog in several ways. Earlier, we mentioned how you can help desensitize your dog to thunderstorms by playing them on a speaker. However, you can desensitize your pet to the vet by acting out vet visits. 

Unfortunately, many pet parents don't invest enough time in working directly with their dogs to reduce anxiety levels. In a study (overseen by veterinary professionals) of the effect of four-week desensitization and counter-conditioning training in dogs with veterinary fear, 44% of owners were non-compliant with training protocols. However, the dogs that were trained exhibited a more relaxed posture. However, the training program didn't affect heart or respiratory rate, avoidance, vocalizations, or willingness to step on the scale, so desensitization would likely have helped more had the program been longer than four weeks.6

What does this mean for pet parents? Ultimately, you have to set an anxiety training schedule and stick with it. Desensitization is more complex than teaching your dog a trick, and it can take many months or years, depending on your dog's fearfulness. 

In addition to desensitizing your dog to the vet experience, you should help make them more comfortable in a muzzle. Many vets request that anxious dogs that are more likely to become aggressive wear a muzzle, but if your dog isn't calm while wearing one, it can make the experience more stressful for them. Instead, your dog should be willing and happy to wear their muzzle when it's needed. The best type of muzzle is a basket muzzle because it allows you to feed your dog treats through the holes, is much more comfortable, and won't affect your dog's ability to breathe or drink water. 

Partnering with a trainer who practices positive reinforcement training can help you learn training tactics to practice with your dog.

Try Happy Visits

One of the best ways to desensitize your dog to the vet is by helping them build positive associations. Many vets will allow happy visits, in which you bring your dog in for an "appointment" and allow them to sniff the office, meet new people, and get petted by the vet team without actual examinations or treatments. Instead, the vet will determine how to approach your dog. For example, some dogs are calm when initially petted by the vet but become anxious when they use a stethoscope or try to touch their paws, ears, or belly. Meanwhile, other dogs are anxious any time they enter the vet's office. A happy visit can help you learn more about your dog's threshold and keep them calm, allowing your vet to give them treats and reward them for calm behavior. 

Since they're not getting any treatments during this time, they learn that the vet's office isn't a scary place, allowing them to build more positive associations. Of course, how often your pet should have happy visits depends on their level of fear and how they react to the vet's office and vet. However, you can pair happy visits with medication to make the experience less stressful for an extremely anxious dog. 

1 in 7 dogs exhibit extreme fear or stress at the vet

Get Expert Care From Home With Dutch

Anxious dogs hate the vet, but with training and anxiety medication, you can make their experience less traumatizing. Unfortunately, many pet parents avoid going to the vet because of how their dogs respond to it, which can be dangerous. A sick dog needs veterinary intervention, and many illnesses and infections won't go away on their own. However, you don't have to go to an in-person vet clinic for every health concern, thanks to telemedicine for pets

Instead, you can try virtual care that allows your dog to get the care they need from the comfort of home, which means less vet-related anxiety and better care for pets. There are several benefits of telemedicine for pets, including access to care, the ability to get care outside of your region, and convenience, which allows stressed pet parents and anxious dogs to avoid at least some trips to the vet. You can even get online pet prescriptions for anxiety and various health issues. 

Of course, online vet care has its limitations. For example, vets can't physically examine the pet or perform lab tests, so there are some instances where your dog will have to see an in-person vet. In addition, telemedicine for pets can't treat all illnesses and injuries, which may require hands-on medical attention. Your veterinarian can make a referral to a veterinary behaviorist who can help create a full plan to improve veterinary visits and anxiety in general.

Still, virtual vet care can reduce how often your dog needs to go to the vet, giving you more time to work on desensitization at home. Dutch proudly serves pet parents and their beloved companion animals in 50 states, with 69% of calls outside of standard vet office hours, allowing us to provide your pet with care after-hours when they need it most. We've helped treat 153 health issues, allowing us to provide anxious pets with high-quality care without the fear and anxiety associated with vet visits. 

FAQs

Is it normal for dogs to hate the vet?

Why are dogs scared of the vet? Ultimately, it's for the same reasons many humans are afraid of their own doctors. Animals experience fear from various stimuli, including everything from the smells and sounds at the vet to the touching, poking, and prodding performed by the vet. While it's common for dogs to dislike the vet, it doesn't have to be normal for your dog. Instead, you can invest time into desensitization and happy vet visits to help your dog feel calmer at the vet. 

Do dogs know when they're going to the vet?

Packaging your dog and their treats, carrier, and other supplies into a car might make them anxious. Many pet parents believe their dogs know when they're going to the vet, and sometimes that's true. For example, if the only time your dog gets into a car is to go to the vet, they'll know they're going to the vet when you take them there. However, if your dog goes on frequent car rides, they're less likely to know when they're going to the vet unless there are other obvious signs.

Dogs are smart, and they learn by watching you. For example, your dog knows when you go to work because of your morning routine. Therefore, it's highly likely your dog knows when they're going to the vet, especially if there's anything special you do on vet visit days. 

Can I give my dog Benadryl before going to the vet?

Benadryl is an allergy medication that may be used to help make dogs sleepy during stressful situations. However, you should never give your dog Benadryl without first consulting your vet. This allergy medication may help treat minor anxiety by making dogs feel more tired, but it's not ideal for all dogs. Plus, it can have negative interactions with other medications. Additionally, you don't know how much to give your dog, so it's best to talk to your vet about whether it's safe and any alternative options for treating their anxiety. 

Terrier looking up at pet parent’s computer during an online vet appointment

Final Notes

Why don't dogs like the vet? Dog anxiety at the vet is common, even in dogs that don't normally have anxiety. Unfortunately, going to the vet is sometimes unavoidable, especially if your dog has a serious illness that requires hands-on medical intervention. Luckily, there are several ways to reduce your dog's vet-related anxiety, such as medication and behavior modification. Desensitization can reduce your dog's anxiety in the long term, while anxiety medication can alleviate anxiety symptoms immediately, which can facilitate training. 

Additionally, you can avoid the stress of going to the vet in some cases. Instead, you can try Dutch telemedicine for pets. We can diagnose and treat various dog health issues to help you avoid a stressful vet trip. Learn more about Dutch vs. a traditional vet experience.
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References

  1. Edwards, Petra T., et al. "Investigating Risk Factors That Predict a Dog's Fear during Veterinary Consultations." PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0215416

  2. Kriss, Randa. "Dog Anxiety: What Dog Owners Need to Know." American Kennel Club, 3 Feb. 2023, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/treating-dog-anxiety/

  3. "Your Dog's Fear." UC Davis, https://healthtopics.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/sites/g/files/dgvnsk6721/files/inline-files/Your-Dogs-Fear.pdf

  4. Maxwell, Megan. "Addressing Fear of Thunderstorms with Systematic Desensitization." AVSAB, 8 Sept. 2015, https://avsab.org/addressing-fear-of-thunderstorms-with-systematic-desensitization/

  5. Author links open overlay panelRynae Butler c, et al. “The Efficacy of Systematic Desensitization for Treating the Separation-Related Problem Behaviour of Domestic Dogs.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Elsevier, 18 Dec. 2010, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0168159110002923#:~:text=Cottman%20et%20al.,in%20the%20dogs'%20problem%20behaviour

  6. Stellato, Anastasia, et al. "Effect of a Standardized Four-Week Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning Training Program on Pre-Existing Veterinary Fear in Companion Dogs." MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 7 Oct. 2019, https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/9/10/767.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Dutch?

Dutch is an online veterinary pet telehealth service, created by pet parents and board-certified veterinary specialists. We use a science-backed approach to provide pets relief for their everyday physical and behavioral health issues. Dutch connects you with licensed veterinarians over video chat and messaging to help you get care for your dog or cat quickly wherever you are — without the stress or expense of a vet visit. We also partner with pharmacies who can deliver prescription medication (in applicable states only) and over-the-counter treatments directly to your door. Dutch isn’t a veterinary practice or pharmacy, but a company that helps facilitate these services for pet parents to make veterinary care more accessible to all.

What is a visit with Dutch like?

When booking a video call with a vet, you'll be asked a few questions about your pet’s health issue. Depending on the issue, you may also be asked to fill out a longer questionnaire about their symptoms and share photographs of them so our veterinarians can better understand what’s going on. You’ll then pick an appointment time that works best for you.

During your video call, one of our licensed veterinarians will talk to you about the symptoms your pet is experiencing, ask you questions, review your pet’s medical history if you’ve provided it, and answer any questions you have. The vet will ask to see your pet and their environment. And they may ask you to perform some simple checks on them if needed.

After your video call, the vet will send you a message with a custom treatment plan to help your pet feel better, including a link to buy any recommended prescription or over-the-counter medications. Place your order and we’ll ship it free.

How much will it cost for Dutch to treat my pet?

The Dutch membership starts at $7/mo for unlimited access to the vet. No more long waits for appointments or surprise bills.

In addition to the base membership plan, our veterinarians may also recommend additional medication (Rx and/or OTC) that you will have the option of adding to your plan at an additional cost.