In the past few years, a new catch phrase has been introduced at veterinary hospitals - it has a few different variations .... 'happy visit', 'victory visit', 'practice visit'...but they all mean the same thing. This type of visit is meant to help our pets adjust to the veterinary hospital and create positive associations. It makes sense when you think about it. If I visited my dentist's office every couple weeks and got a hot fudge sundae when I was there, I probably wouldn't mind going to see them. Instead we go twice a year - sometimes less frequently- and it often is unpleasant and uncomfortable (sound familiar???). Why should we expect our pets to like coming to the vet's office - most of their visits are just that....unpleasant and uncomfortable. But they don't have to all be that way.
I encourage my clients to bring their pets in for these type of positive visits all the time - even those pets who seemingly love to come to the vet. They deserve these type of fun, non-medical, treat giving, attention getting, visits too! These visits are worth blocking off some time in your schedule to allow your pet to get undivided attention from veterinary staff, in a stress free manner.
So what exactly do we mean when we say 'happy visit' - for most it means coming into the office and saying hello to staff and getting treats without any medical treatment or unpleasant interaction. For some pets, especially those who fear certain aspects of the veterinary visit, we can work on desensitizing them at these visits. One of the common things I see is pets are scared to get onto the scale - often because these are cold, metal objects that look scary to our pets. Happy visits allow us to offer lots of treats and positive reinforcement while pets get on the scale - it also allows us to take the time the pet needs to examine and explore the scale without the worry of falling behind in our daily schedule. For some pets, happy visits include a walk through the building, or spending some time in an exam room or a part of the hospital they don't particularly enjoy visiting. For some it is time just spent sitting in the waiting room and getting treats so that they don't always associate our office with something painful or terrifying.
I do advise clients to call before setting up happy visits - it takes some coordination with the veterinary team to make sure that the time you want to visit is appropriate for this type of experience - we don't want to bring a nervous dog into our lobby if we know we have another patient there that doesn't like being around other dogs - this could work against us and cause both patients more fear than we intend. In addition, if your intention is to desensitize your pet to a certain portion of the hospital, you want to ensure you can gain access to it - such as ensuring the cat exam room is available so you can allow Fluffy to explore it in peace.
I have done many happy visits over my years and they are some of my favorite times with patients - we have fun, spoil them with treats and rest easy knowing that what we are doing is changing their opinion of us forever. Next time you think about taking Fluffy or Fido out for an adventure, swing by your vet office to say hi and get some treats - it will pay off in the long run!