Fear is a universal reaction experienced by everyone - including dogs and cats. Anything we can encounter that appears to be a threat will cause an emotional reaction within us. Subconsciously, our body reacts by increasing our heart rate, our breathing and tensing our muscles. We are physically preparing for our 'flight or fight' response. While it may be strange to consider this, fear can actually prove beneficial - it keeps us alive by allowing us to recognize danger and react accordingly. Uncontrolled fear however can have severe physical and psychological effects and lead to unwanted and undesirable behaviors.
For our pets, fear can become overwhelming therefore making it impossible to take them to the veterinarian or groomer, take a car-ride, go for a walk or have company at our homes. Fearful pets can become destructive, aggressive, withdrawn or vocal. Some may become physically ill with gastrointestinal upset, urinary issues (especially cats) and anorexia.
Our pets are not aware of the many chemical reactions occurring inside their body during a fearful event however these chemicals produce memory consolidation within the prefrontal cortex of the brain. In simple terms, dogs and cats remember what happened to them to cause their fear response and when presented to the same situation in the future will react with fear. In the wild, this type of memory can save an animal's life however for our domesticated animals, this type of reaction can prevent owners from bringing their pets for their much needed veterinary care. It was noted that taking their dog to the vet was stressful for 26% of pet owners; and 38% of dog owners admit their pet HATES going to the vet. In one study, 38% of owners admitted that the idea of taking their pet to the vet caused them to feel stressed. I didn't get into this field for my patients to hate me nor do I want my clients to feel any sort of stress in regards to coming to see me.
The good news is our pets don't have to be afraid - proper socialization, careful attention to body language and cues as well as veterinary care done in a manner that reduces stress can all lead to happy, healthy, veterinary visits.