Things such as anxiety are often a problem for many pets when visiting the vet. Major catalysts include pet carriers, car rides, uncomfortable temperatures, visual stimulation, sounds and smells. There are a few techniques that my help with your pets anxiety which makes for a better visit.


When we talk about positive reinforcement, we talk about food. Food is a basic need that when it is withheld causes anxiety, and when it is given causes calm! In order for food rewards to work, the reward must be soft and easily swallowed, tasty unique and you must be hungry! Initially, we reward frequently or constantly when a pet performs a behavior, so that a pet understands that this is what you want- i.e. You say ‘go pee-pee’, and I (your pet) squats in the grass, squeeze liquid out of me, and I get yummy in my tummy! If you reward me every time I do this, I will connect the ‘go pee-pee’ with the yummy in my tummy and I will squat for you every time! Once your pet gets ‘it’, then you should reward sporadically, which will solidify this behavior forever.

Pet Carrier

Don’t make this an alien object that only comes out with the associated needles and pain! Making the pet carrier a regular part of the household is imperative for cats. Place a soft blanket inside and covering it to make a great ‘hidey hole’, initially placing a great treat inside so that your cat can see it, smell it, and go in and eat it. After a few obvious treat episodes, you will be able to put something in there without your cat seeing you do it, and through their daily travels, they will happen upon it and be rewarded for their inquisitiveness and it will become a regular part of their day. Once this is the case, all you need to do when it’s time to go to the vet, is make it obvious that you are putting a treat in the carrier, and voila’ cat carrier! Wouldn’t we all love this? And just imagine your cat is not afraid of being inside, they do it all the time – this is a safe spot with positive feelings!

Visual Stimulation

This is most easily controlled for cats and small dogs that are in a pet carrier. Putting a towel over the carrier will decrease sights that are unexpected: such as dogs, people, small erratic people (children seen from a pet’s eyes who is not exposed to them!), the bright sun, cars driving by in a parking lot, etc.

Car Rides

This is easy, but how it goes for your pet may not be so obvious. The dogs that leaps here and there; panting wildly may seem to be ‘enjoying the ride’, when in reality these are actually signs of stress and anxiety. Rewarding calm behavior and doing short stints initially will help build up to a much better traveler. A hungry dog is always a better learner if you’re going to use food as a positive reinforcement; but a car ride on a totally empty stomach may cause some nausea. Skip breakfast for a morning car ride, but do give a few kibbles or a saltine cracker just before starting out. For a pet showing anxiety in the car, the first ‘trip(s)’ may just be getting into the car, rewarding your pet for lying down where you want them and getting out without ever starting the engine. Having a driver or passenger to help with the first trip(s) is imperative, as you will need positively reinforced calm behavior while driving. For smaller pets, getting them up to look out the window calmly can help them adjust to a moving vehicle without getting carsick. Holding them still and giving them very small treats to positively reinforce the experience will teach them that this is how you travel. Once they are good in laps, they can graduate to a dog seat belt, or one of the elevated dog car seats.