Whether you have a puppy or a kitten, your pet’s first visit can be a traumatic affair or a bonding experience. Which one it is can depend on you.
You need to be spiritually and emotionally centered. You can take many paths to centeredness- yoga, meditation, tai chi, prayer, reflexology, craniosacral therapy, massage, holistic physical therapy, listening to your favorite music, herbal teas-just so you get there.
Why is your centeredness important? Because your pet can feel your energy. Animals relate strongly to energy. They judge our intent by our energy. Try doing a routine of stretching exercises in your home and watch your cats gather around you. They feel your positive energy and are attracted to it. They are curious. And they are calm.
This same energy works with your pet’s first visit. A first visit is like a blank slate. No impression has been written yet in your pet’s memory. If you’re lucky, you get a free pass because your pet is processing the experience, drawing conclusions without reacting. Months later, when you go back for that second visit, you will find out your pet’s true perception of the first visit. Was your pet comfortable or terrified? Was it a good experience or bad?
As the primary person in your pet’s life, you must do your part to ensure that the experience is good. Stay calm (once you have gotten yourself centered) and make the trip as if it’s a visit to the park or to see a neighbor.
Conditioning- or bribing- your pet with treats is unnecessary as long as you remain calm and centered, and it may even be detrimental because it raises your pet’s emotional response. It can pick up the stress that you are feeling as you, in effect, try to fool your pet to “not be afraid”.
Providing your puppy with alternative therapies, rescue remedies, or dog-appeasing pheromones to allay its anxieties is a way of doing “to the dog”, not “for the dog”. You are still forcing your pet to deal with its own emotions, to become socialized without your guidance. What you need to do to help your pet is to provide your own positive energy and emotional- which means calm- input.
In the same way, you don’t have to talk down to or enable your puppy by offering assurances that it doesn’t understand. You say with forced calmness, “Good girl, Muffy. Don’t worry. Everything will be okay.” Muffy hears, “Something’s wrong here.”
A potential problem area is in the waiting room. Other animals, with their own emotional histories, can provoke unpleasant interactions, and you have little control of the situation. Therefore, long waits should be avoided whenever possible. One way to judge a veterinarian is by how carefully scheduled the visits are. Arrive as close to your scheduled time as possible. If you see that a wait will be longer than 10 minutes, consider waiting in the car where your pet is in familiar territory and has less time to draw negative conclusions.
By the time you get in the exam room, you and your pet should be seeing the change of scenery as simply more of the same, business as usual. If everyone can remain calm and centered, your puppy or kitten will not feel threatened- even by the painful experience of an injection. If any affect is perceived by the animal, it will interpret the situation as threatening.
There is an old expression familiar to horse owners: “You can do anything on a horse once. The second time you will find out the truth.” That expression applies well with your puppy or kitten’s first visit to the vet. Make it a good one so future visits will be as pleasant as that visit to the park, and your pet will share a long, healthy life with you.
written with the assistance of Ken Wachsberger (Azenphony Press)