It’s common for dogs to be scared of going to the vet

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It’s not unusual for a dog to be scared when visiting the vet, scientists say.

A new study led by researchers from the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at the University of Adelaide has found up to 40 per cent of owners report their pet dogs are scared while being examined by a vet. Furthermore, one in seven - 14% - dogs show severe or extreme fear during an examination.

The researchers found that the environment or specific experiences of an individual dog are more important than factors such as breed and age in predicting fear.  

The study was based on 26,555 responses to the Canine Behaviour and Research Questionnaire, where dog owners were given examples of mild-moderate fear, including: avoiding eye contact, crouching or cringing with tail lowered or tucked between the legs, whimpering or whining, freezing, and shaking or trembling.

Extreme fear was described as exaggerated cowering, and/or vigorous attempts to escape, retreat or hide.

Dr Susan Hazel, senior lecturer in the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, said it was widely known that dogs can be very fearful about going to the vet, but it wasn’t clear how common the problem is.

Researcher and PhD candidate Petra Edwards said it was “a shock to find up to one in seven dogs reported to show severe or extreme fear during vet visits, but even 41 per cent of dogs showing mild to moderate fear in the same context”.

The risk factors that may help predict a dog’s fear including its breed group, weight, age of other dogs in the household, history of roles or activities, the owner’s level of experience in dog ownership, and where the dog was bought from.

These risk factors only predicted around 7 percent of the reported fear at the vet in the survey. This means while they were statistically significant, the individual experience of each dog is more important.

Ms Edwards highlighted that owners with dogs that are afraid of their vet may avoid taking them frequently for check-ups; or wait until a health issue is severe. 

“Scared dogs may also be harder to diagnose, take longer to undergo a standard physical exam or pose a risk of injury to themselves, the vet staff and their owners,” she says.

Ms Edwards hopes the research will promote more thoughtful, proactive processes and education around human-animal interactions, clinic environment or animal management.

“I imagine that there’s likely not a one-size fits all answer, but hopefully with time, practice and research we can find many answers that we can adapt to each individual to help ensure the majority of our dogs can feel safe and comfortable with their vet care,’’ she said.

Tagged in Research News, School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Animal Science News, Veterinary Medicine News