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Navigating a visit to the vets when you’re an anxious dog – Phoebe’s story

Here is the gorgeous Phoebe, who came to The Ralph for treatment of her elbow dysplasia (abnormal development of the elbow joint). Phoebe, like a number of our companion animals, experiences anxiety when visiting the vets (just like us humans when we visit the hospital!). Our compassionate patient care team were forewarned of this. They were able to put strategies in place to help make her time at The Ralph as comfortable as possible. Here we follow Phoebe’s journey…

Phoebe’s first visit to The Ralph was to see our Orthopaedic Surgeon, Stefano, for a physical examination. It was during this consultation we observed the extent of Phoebe’s anxiety. Stefano assessed Phoebe’s joints expecting to observe signs of pain or discomfort. Instead, Phoebe stood frozen with nerves. Stefano then scheduled an appointment for a CT scan at a later date. This would help to fully assess Phoebe’s elbow joint.

Knowing Phoebe would be returning, our Champion for Compassionate Patient Care, Caroline, spoke to Phoebe’s carer. They discussed what could be done both before and during Phoebe’s next visit to The Ralph. Anxiety can sometimes build once an animal has left home with the anticipation of where they are going. One helpful strategy is to spray the inside of your car with a synthetic pheromone which comforts dogs (e.g. Adaptil). Our Anaesthetist, Eva, provided some advice about a light sedative which could help calm Phoebe’s nerves. She suggested something which would not interfere with the anaesthetic plan for Phoebe’s CT scan later in the day.

Phoebe in her carer’s car which has been sprayed with Adaptil.

Meanwhile, at the hospital, our team prepared Phoebe’s kennel. We had arranged for Phoebe to stay in a kennel which didn’t face other dogs, as her carer mentioned this would add to her anxiety. We sprayed the kennel with Adaptil and plugged in an Adaptil diffuser close by to ensure a constant flow of comforting signals. When the team met Phoebe in the waiting room, they gave her an Adaptil-infused bandana for her to wear throughout her stay. Phoebe had her CT scan and returned to her carers that afternoon. Phoebe’s anxiety was much better. Yet she was still showing signs of nervousness, mainly hypersalivation (excessive drooling).

Phoebe in her garden wearing a bandana, before starting the journey to The Ralph.

The results from Phoebe’s CT scan confirmed she would need surgery on her elbow. This meant another (longer) visit to the hospital including an overnight stay. In preparation for Phoebe’s next visit, Caroline and the team created a further plan. Phoebe’s carer repeated the use of Adaptil in the car, and placed an Adaptil-infused bandana around Phoebe’s neck. They decided not to use any sedation as this had minimal effect during the previous visit.

When Phoebe arrived at the hospital, Caroline (now a familiar face) greeted her and took her for a sniff around the clinical areas of the hospital. This helped Phoebe to become comfortable with her surroundings.

Phoebe having a good sniff around before her surgery.

Knowing that Phoebe is much happier away from other dogs, we dedicated our Emergency Dog Ward to her throughout her stay. As per the previous visit, we sprayed the ward with Adaptil and plugged in an Adaptil diffuser. Phoebe’s carer also left some toys and a blanket for her to enjoy as home-comforts. Once Phoebe had had a good sniff around, Caroline spent some time with her in the ward, and settled her in.

Caroline settling Phoebe into the Emergency Dog Ward.

To keep Phoebe relaxed throughout all areas of the hospital, the team used slow movements when handling her (e.g. for temperature checks). They also did not rush her when moving from one room to the other, or when taking her outside. These slow movements can reduce levels of stress and anxiety. They made a big difference to Phoebe’s behaviour whilst at the hospital.

Confident that Phoebe was in a good place, she underwent surgery with Stefano. He performed arthroscopy to remove a fragment of bone from Phoebe’s elbow joint. Phoebe recovered in her ward accompanied by some soothing music and her home-comforts. When she was up and about, Phoebe enjoyed some long breaks outside with our patient care assistants to allow her to relax and move around.

Phoebe recovering in the Emergency Dog Ward.

The following morning, Caroline was greeted by Phoebe with a wagging tail – a wonderful sight! Her surgery had gone well, and Phoebe was well enough to go home that afternoon.

It sometimes requires a trial of many methods, as you can see with Phoebe, but we feel it is important to take every measure possible to provide our patients with a comfortable stay during their time with us.

If you have a nervous pet and would like some advice about planning your visit please do not hesitate to contact Caroline and the team – [email protected]  

Thank you for taking the time to read about Phoebe’s story. 

Take care 

Team Ralph

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