How to keep timid dogs and cats calm during vaccinations

A short trip to the veterinarian for dog or cat vaccinations can be an incredibly stressful experience for timid dogs; and even though shots only come around once each year, it doesn't stop it being a difficult time for you as their owner. With a little planning and training, it is possible to make vaccinations a little easier on your pet.

Don't delay puppy and kitten vaccinations

When you adopt a puppy or kitten, it is crucial that you take them to the vet to get all the appropriate shots as soon as possible. Not only will your pet be more susceptible to diseases at this young age without their vaccinations, but it's also a great opportunity to get them used to the sights, sounds and smells at the vets without any fear.

Train them to focus on you

If your pet tends to become agitated and tries to move away from the vet when being examined or vaccinated you should train them to focus on you in order that you can keep them calm and relaxed.

Dogs respond well to emphasised hand gestures so train them to look at you whilst moving your hand up to your eyes. You can begin this process by holding a treat in your fingers; when the dog follows the movement of the treat and looks at you, praise them and reward them with the treat. Repeat this numerous times before trying again without the treat in hand. Eventually your dog will begin to understand that this gesture means 'look at me' and you'll be able to use it at the vets to keep them focussed on you rather than what the vet is doing.

Cats tend to be harder to train than dogs, but the same principles can apply, particularly if you use high value treats such as fresh chicken or ham. Whereas dogs tend to be able to pick up new commands and gestures reasonably easily, you'll probably benefit more from guiding your cat to where you want them to go or look with food. You could also use a clicker to reinforce their good behaviour; by clicking each time they do something you like they will associate the noise with praise.

Get your animal used to being touched

For both cats and dogs, vaccinations are administered via injection into the back of the neck or back, so you should ensure your pet becomes comfortable with being touched in this area. A vet will usually gently pull the skin upwards in order to inject into it; for timid dogs and cats this can make them nervous, so try doing it regularly yourself at home so they become familiar with the process. Choose a time when they're quiet and relaxed and begin by stroking them in this area before gently pulling on the skin. With time they will become used to the sensation and will be more relaxed when the vet does the same.