“Happy Visits!”
What They Are and Why You Should Schedule Them! 

By Melanie Rushforth, SPCA Serving Erie County Vice President of Veterinary Services

One of the positive effects of COVID-19 and the stay-at-home orders we’ve experienced over this past year is that there has been a nationwide increase in pet adoptions throughout the pandemic. Pets provide companionship, endless love, and are known to reduce stress in their humans. Did you know there is something we can be doing to return the favor while keeping your pets healthy at the same time?

The Lipsey Veterinary Clinic and other vet hospitals around the country has been practicing curbside service. Curbside service consists of a relatively (human) contact-less experience for treatment and exams and is designed to keep humans safe and protected from the spread of COVID-19. However, this experience is new to our furry friends, and may be a stressful and unfamiliar time for them. The Lipsey Veterinary Clinic has begun offering “Happy Visits” to prepare pets to feel at ease when coming to the vet. Here’s what those look like, and why we think they’re important.

For some background on why we decided to start this we will turn to the psychology behind it. Classical conditioning happens when animals learn to associate certain things in their environment with a positive or negative experience. Classical conditioning is at work all the time in everyday life, whether we intend for it to happen. Animals learn to associate what they experience with different things that occur in their environment. Figuring out how to contribute to a positive experience can be useful to pets, pet owners, and veterinary providers.

When we see your pet at the Lipsey Veterinary Clinic, we love them. We tell Fluffy that he is the best and most handsome boy around, and we mean it every time! We have cheese in a can and all the ear scritches that he can handle. However, we also have sharp things that poke. And scales that they must stand on (and who likes that?!). And a million unfamiliar smells. And as nice as everyone is, mom and dad must wait outside for now, and the foreseeable future.

COVID-19 has contributed to an environment where newly adopted pets may not be getting as much socialization outside of their household as pets were getting pre-COVID. Scheduling a “Happy Visit” will help your pet become familiar with the vet’s office BEFORE going in to be vaccinated or to have a procedure. This creates a positive environment before anything needs to happen and gives your pet a place to be excited about returning to. “Happy Visits” will let your pet meet the staff, sniff around, meet the scale, get treats and pets and compliments, and end with a plan to return for the needed services like vaccinations and nail trims. New places are sometimes anxiety-producing – just because they are new. Scheduling “Happy Visits” occasionally reduces your pet’s anxiety by simply transforming the vet’s office from an unknown to a known environment.

Better yet, take along some great treats, preferably something that is incredibly special to your pet like steak or hot dogs. If you have a puppy or kitten, start your “Happy Visits” as early as possible. But don’t worry if you have an older pet or a pet that is already anxious about vet visits. “Happy Visits” can dramatically reduce an adult pet’s stress level, too.

Some things you can work into your home routine include some simple things that you’re already doing, but now you can do them knowing that they will help your pet be a great patient. Getting your pet accustomed to being touched all over is essential for your pet’s comfort during an examination. In a routine exam, the veterinarian may look in your pet’s eyes, ears, and mouth, listen to his heart and lungs, touch and probe his belly, manipulate his joints, and take his temperature. Pets that are handled, petted, and touched all over daily will be less likely to perceive this as invasive, and more likely to regard it as affectionate (if somewhat personal!) touching.

In addition, when you regularly spend time touching your pet, you will be more likely to notice changes such as lumps, swelling, or tenderness that may indicate health problems.

Another very important part of this routine is to take note of your pet’s sensitive spots. Most pets have one or more spots where they prefer not to be touched. Some pets don’t like to have their paws touched. Others may not like their hips, ears, or tails touched. This is great information to offer to the receptionist when making an appointment; that way, we can be prepared to know what to expect.

You can help even the most reluctant pet accept the handling of sensitive areas with a little patience and some great treats. Have your pet near you in a comfortable position. Then feed your pet his favorite treats while briefly touching the sensitive spot. For example, if your pet is sensitive about having his paws handled, gently and quickly stroke your pet’s paw and then give him a great treat. Once your pet is happy about the brief touch (because he knows the treat is coming!), you can leave your hand on his paw just a little bit longer before giving him the treat. Gradually work up to holding the paw, then giving gentle squeezes, and eventually touching between his toes.

We love seeing your pets, and we look forward to their visits. Even though we don’t see your pet often, we consider them part of our clinic family. Regular wellness visits are helpful for long-term health, so please get those appointments on the calendar! If you would like to schedule a “Happy Visit” for your cat or dog in anticipation for a future service at the Lipsey Veterinary Clinic, please call the clinic at 716-531-4700!