Children are often curious, and sometimes anxious or fearful, about what happens when their pets visit the veterinarian. If done well, demystifying the veterinary visit can be healthy for a child’s development, possibly even introducing her to career possibilities in the veterinary field. The successful experience can also awaken and inspire a child to become aware of her own health care, as well as increase her empathy, compassion, and sense of responsibility to do right by her pets. After all, when kids discover pets, they discover themselves.
April 26 is National Kids and Pets Day.
Steps to take before the veterinary visit
Before packing up both your furry kid and your human one and heading to the veterinarian, it’s important to prepare your child for what might occur. Start by asking some of the following questions:
- Why is it important for our pet to go to the veterinarian?
- What do you think will happen at the veterinarian’s office?
- How are you feeling about the veterinary visit?
- Do you have any questions you’d like to ask the veterinarian?
Help your child to write down any questions he may have, and bring that list with you for your pet’s appointment.
Some children, especially those who have experienced their own health issues in the past, experience high anxiety when it comes to medical appointments, even if the appointment isn’t for them. It may be helpful to take your child to the veterinarian first, without your pet in tow, for a brief socialization visit. Some veterinarians offer open houses for kids, giving them an opportunity to see the facility, meet some of the staff, and learn about veterinary careers. This will help him to see that the office isn’t such a scary place, after all. If anxiety is too high during that initial visit, it may be best to leave him home while your pet receives her preventive care checkup. A child’s high anxiety could be counterproductive to your pet’s comfort level during the exam.
My child is ready to attend a veterinary visit; now what?
Once you determine your child is ready to accompany you and your pet to the veterinarian, it is important to notify the veterinary staff that you will be bringing your child with you for the first time and that he has some questions he’d like to ask the veterinarian. This will prepare the staff to be ready to spend some extra time answering questions and explaining procedures.
On the day of the exam, invite your child to choose your pet’s favorite toy to bring. That will increase the comfort level, giving both your child and your pet something to focus on other than the exam. Review with your child what to expect during the exam and the importance of preventive care exams for your pet’s health. Remember to bring the list of questions your child created, and help him ask them during the visit.
It is generally not recommended to bring a child into the back room where medical procedures take place or where pets recover from anesthesia. It is also not typical for a young child to attend a beloved pet’s euthanasia. Older children may be able to witness this sad event, but only with emotional preparation and an explanation of what exactly to expect. If possible, prepare your children for that sad moment with a final day to share memories and your pet’s favorite likes. Once a pet is gone, encourage expressions of feelings (and share your own) through discussions or by drawing pictures, writing stories, or making a photo album.
If your child is adequately prepared for what to expect, all should go smoothly during the veterinary visit. But remember, if something becomes too stressful during the visit, you can always take your child to the reception area to wait while the veterinarian and other staff continue their work to keep your furry friend healthy.
Larry Kay is an award-winning pet author. His next book, Life’s a Bark: What Dogs Teach Us About Life and Love, will be published in June 2014 by Sourcebooks. Find Larry online.
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