Friday, July 12, 2013

Stella and the Vet




Our sweet puppy, Stella, has a big problem.  She is terrified to go to the vet, and she needs to go get a heartworm test and some vaccinations.  The anxiety can be traced back to when she was neutered, about a year ago. Before that, a visit to the vet was a great happy treat and Stella loved everyone there.   Last year, when we went for her annual check-up, she didn’t like it much.  She was uncharacteristically nervous. The vet gave me some Ace (acepromazine) pills and suggested that the next time we come, I should give her a couple to calm her.  I’m not a fan of tranquilizers, so I chose to believe that Stella would simply get over this aversion.
This winter, I took Stella off the heartworm medication and the Frontline for a couple of months when there were no bugs. So, this Spring, I made an appointment for her to have a heartworm test before I put her back on the pills.  We went to the vet, without any tranquilizers, and Stella had a total meltdown.  I’ve never seen her like this, hiding under me, shaking, panting, refusing dog treats. The vet techs were very sympathetic and gentle, and we decided not to do anything that day. We re-scheduled, and I gave her the two tabs of Ace an hour and a half before we went back to the vet. The drugs seemed to rev Stella up instead of calm her. She was trying to play with the cat and racing around, and the closer we got to the vet’s office, the more upset she was. Once again, we went in, Stella freaked out and we did nothing but try to hang out until she calmed down. She never did. So, after talking to the vet, we tried it again with 3 pills.  Stella was very disoriented from the drugs, and she still panicked and we did not do the blood test and later, she was wobbling around like a drunk.  I felt awful that I had done this to her. The vet told me that some dogs will have that reaction to Ace, so we should try Xanax.
By now, I was really upset.  We love our vet and don’t want to find another one. We’ve been going there for almost 10 years, and we really believe that they are the best ones around. I googled around and found out that Ace is a sedative, which can sometimes not work because it is not “calming” but merely sedating – like a blanket that slows down the dog but doesn’t address the underlying anxiety. And Xanax is supposed to actually calm anxiety-ridden dogs. Did I mention that I don’t like these kind of drugs?  But I took Stella to the vet – a desensitization visit – and picked up the pills. I brought my husband along for moral support. Stella wigged out again and scratched him really hard on the arm as she was trying to jump on him to get away. He agreed with me: it’s official that Stella has a problem with the vet. The Xanax didn’t work either. It seemed to have no effect on her at all. When we got to the vet, she was panting and freaking out. They don’t want to restrain her, so we agreed that we would have to come up with some other plan, but their only suggestion was that I call an animal behaviorist.  So, I am waiting to hear from a vet who is a behaviorist that they recommended.
I’m wondering if somehow, since Stella seems to have this reverse reaction to the medications, maybe she wasn’t actually sedated enough when they neutered her. Of course, no one will ever admit that happened, and only Stella would be able to tell me. She’s definitely telling me something, and I am listening. I just need to figure out the best thing to do for her. She really needs to be on the heartworm medication since there are lots of mosquitos around right now. And I want her to be okay at the vet. I’ve always believed that my animals need to be calm enough to be handled by vets and technicians.  They don’t have to love it, but they need to be able to get medical treatment. I may just try a new vet and see how she reacts. Or see what the behaviorist says. Or schedule a house call with some vet.
What I don’t want to do is further traumatize my good, sweet pup.



20 comments:

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Poor Stella...the rush to solve all medical issues with pharmaceuticals just blows my mind sometimes.

Have you considered a Thundershirt? I can't say from experience if they work or not. My girls love going to the vet - lucky for us. It may be worth a try since it's non invasive, and I think they have a money back guarantee.

Good luck :D

Victoria Cummings said...

I was looking at the Thundershirts, but Stella is not scared of loud noises, storms or anything really except the vet. And she doesn't like it when I put Frontline on her either now. She runs and hides from me. I'm wondering if it might have something to do with the smells of medication. She has a very sensitive sense of smell and when she's outside and get a scent, she is a real tracker, so maybe that's what she is reacting to.

Annette Mickelson said...

Will your horse vet take care of dogs? Some of them do -- that is what we did. When the vet was out to vaccinate the horses, we had her do the dogs as well.

Lauren @ She Moved To Texas said...

That's really frustrating. We fostered a dog with severe anxiety, and the Xanax didn't do much for him either. Eventually we just stopped the behavior that was making him anxious. :/

Victoria Cummings said...

Annette - Our horse vet is strictly a horse vet. But that would be a good way to go. Although, I want to be able to take Stella to the vet if there is an emergency.
Lauren - I guess this is a pretty common anxiety. I spoke to the behaviorist vet this afternoon and she says that she has no doubt she can help us fix the problem. So, I think we will go that route and see how she can do it. She agreed that she didn't think that drugs were the answer, so I felt better about it.

billie said...

Our equine vet will give shots, etc. on farm calls - and increasing numbers of small animal vets are making house calls so maybe those are options?

I would second a thundershirt trial - it is supposed to help them feel more secure - and might help.

How about clicker training to help her focus on you and something positive paired with some visits to the vet where she gets pats and treats - maybe in the parking lot to begin with and then on leash to the front door, then to the waiting room, and finally into an exam room - build things up slowly so she is not pushed over the edge - i.e. go to the parking lot (and have the vet come out to the car) until she is great with that, then bump to the next thing.

If you are in touch with a behaviorist you probably already have good options! Just like with horses though, I think the key is moving very slowly and consistently until you see progress that is solid. Big hugs to Stella girl. I have the same anxiety about doctors' offices and hospitals!!

Victoria Cummings said...

Billie - I think that I will try the clicker with Stella and see how she likes it. Thanks! We decided to go ahead and have a consultation with the vet behaviorist. She asked that I not do any kind of desensitizing about this problem until after we meet. I'm also thinking about doing an obedience class with Stella just to firm up how well she listens to me. We still don't do very well walking on a leash, so that's something that we need to work on too. She's such a great dog, and I want her to feel content and calm. People who meet Stella always comment on how happy she is, so this is really coming out of the blue.

Kate said...

What if you were to make going to the vet part of every outing, every day - just stop in when you're doing other errands, and have everyone pet her and fuss over her, and then leave. Pretty soon, the vet might be a happy place and a desired location . . .

Kate said...

And I should have added - let her set the pace - on the first stop by the vet, if she's anxious just let her stay in the car and drive away - keep repeating until that is no longer a source of anxiety. Then she can get out of the car and walk around - keep repeating every day until no anxiety. Then she can go it, etc., etc. - adding someting - talking to different people, touring the facility, having a pretend vet exam - new only when she finds it OK. It might take a while but I think it'd work and she'd be fine with things once she got to choose.

detroit dog said...

So sorry about Stella's reaction with the Vet's office. My first grey used to just turn and face the Vet's front door and refused to move!

I look forward to hearing how the behaviorist works out. Good luck, Stella!

Victoria Cummings said...

Kate - I really appreciate your advice. I think you are right not to push Stella to accept something that she fears simply because it's inconvenient for me that she is afraid. Another lesson in patience.
Veronica - Thanks - I will keep you informed about our journey through this issue.

Carine said...

I had problems with my cat and found an homeopatic remedy that works wonder. As I live in Europe, the name of the remedy may not help you but a little search could make it. there are not many vets who use homeopathy for this kind of problem that is not a medical one, unfortunately

Victoria Cummings said...

Carine - I will look into that more - thanks for reminding me - We tried Rescue Remedy but it doesn't seem to have much effect. Funny, I take it myself before I try to do any of these vet-activities with Stella and it works well for me. At least I can stay calm when she's in a panic.

Oak in the Seed said...

Smart to engage a behaviorist to sort out how to proceed. There are many things that could work (you've tried them) but a behaviorist will give you tons of information about body language and signaling and consistency. You will nail this, I am sure.
Just ask Toby. :)

Anonymous said...

I have a 2 year old lab mix who is a handful. He is having anxiety with the vet as well.

I have heard good things about the thundershirt but have not tried it myself. I believe the whole premise behind it has to do with pressure points that calm a dog through any stress -- not just noise and storms.

Using a harness (along with a collar) calms my dog down a great deal. Again I think it has to do with the pressure points on his body -- he goes into sort of a zen state.

Looking forward to hearing about Stella's experience with the behaviorist vet.

Laura said...

I just found your blog and read about poor Stellla. My dog, also, has difficulty with the vet. Since she s now an elderly dog and I can't load her in my truck by myself, I found a vet who comes to my house. The best thing I ever did!! My dog is calm and snuggles up to the vet.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Poor Stella. I'm sure something good will come from all these suggestions. I think for the time being it might be good if you could have a vet come to the house for her blood test. It sounds like something happened to her at the vets clinic when she was neutered that frightened her. I'm only thinking that because she was fine there before but afterwards she's a very frightened puppy. It may have nothing to do with the vet but perhaps whoever took care of her afterwards. Maybe she didn't like the separation from her family and was frightened by that aspect and when she visits now she might be scared she will be left alone again. It's a shame they can't talk.

Victoria Cummings said...

Thanks to everyone for your good suggestions and support! I've made an appointment with a vet who is a behaviorist and I also have a vet who will come to our house, So we will see where this will all go and I will update you after Stella visits with the behaviorist. I don't like the idea that I can't take her to the vet's office because there may be emergency situation where we need to go and I want her to trust us.

C-ingspots said...

Just read this post about the anxiety your beautiful little Stella has been experiencing. How traumatic for her! That picture of her is just precious by the way. Such a pretty little face! :) Read all your comments here, some good advice. I especially agree with Kate. That is exactly how we work with horses, approach and retreat, over and over, with tiny steps of advancement slowly over time all with good results that create calm, positive progress. Good memories will help to erase the bad ones that she's apparently got. I agree with you, something painful happened when she was spayed. How awful that must have been. I wish you much luck with your girl.

Victoria Cummings said...

Thanks, Lorie - I'm following the plan that the behaviorist suggested, working with a clicker and doing some exercises at home using a yoga mat, asking Stella to lie down on it and be calm, sitting with her on a leash next to me for 10 minutes a day. Once we get to the point where she is relaxed and good about doing this, we will progress to visiting the vet office again, bringing the yoga mat, and trying it there to see if she can be okay. She's such a good dog everywhere else, and I will keep at this until she is able to go there without any fear.