Stress and Anxiety in Pets

Manage Stress at Cicero Animal Clinic, P.C.

adorable dog


Many pets are anxious or even fearful at the vet. This is very common despite our use of low stress handling techniques at Cicero Animal Clinic. Behaviors associated with fear can present a safety hazard for the clinic team as well as the pet, and make it difficult to fully evaluate and care for these patients. Even cooperative pets often show clear signs of distress such as hiding, panting, pacing, or urinating during a visit to the veterinarian. Fortunately, we are here to help all pets, including those that are anxious. 
Here at Cicero Animal Clinic, we utilize a variety of methods that have been shown to decrease anxiety among pets in veterinary hospitals. Examples include maintaining a quiet environment for animals, minimizing restraint when possible, avoiding direct eye contact, and gradually approaching pets in the clinic before handling them. We also utilize appealing foods during procedures such as peanut butter or cheese to put pets at ease and shift their focus away from procedures being performed.

We Are Here to Help

Evidence, as well as our own clinical experience, has shown that the careful use of pre-hospital sedation can dramatically improve this experience. For a veterinarian to prescribe sedatives to a pet, they need to have adequate knowledge of the pet’s health status and, if possible, have performed a physical exam. Medications dispensed to help reduce fear/anxiety will be discussed with pet owners to make sure they understand what to expect as well as potential risks. We understand that many pet owners are nervous about giving medications like this to their pets. We view medications as just one of many strategies we employ at Cicero Animal Clinic to try to minimize patient stress. The drugs that we use most frequently are widely considered safe for nearly every patient including those with various illnesses and those taking concurrent medications. We encourage pet owners to ask us about medications if they are uncomfortable giving them or are not sure why they are important. If we are recommending them, our goal is to provide a safer and happier experience for them and the best care possible.

Specific Medications

We commonly use several medications to help fearful and anxious pets to experience a safer and less stressful veterinary visit including acepromazine, gabapentin, trazadone, and melatonin. The only one FDA approved in animals is acepromazine, but the others are frequently used in an off label manner. These are each briefly described here: 

Gabapentin is a commonly used drug in animals and humans for its pain-relieving and anxiety-reducing effects. It may be given orally and used alone or in combination with other medications. When given at home, owners should be aware that pets may appear more sedate and should be supported on steps or when entering/exiting a vehicle. A 2017 feline study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association showed the cats receiving gabapentin before leaving for the vet were more compliant for exams and had owners provide significantly lower stress scores during transportation and examination when compared with cats given a placebo. While individual responses to any drug may vary, gabapentin generally has a wide safety profile. 

Trazodone can be used short-term or long-term to help manage anxiety in pets. Onset of action after administration is approximately 1 hour so it is best to administer at home at least 60 minutes prior to departing for the clinic. While individual responses to any drug may vary, trazodone generally has a wide safety profile. 

Acepromazine is a widely used sedative in veterinary medicine. This drug is often dispensed as tablets to be given prior to a hospital visit. Acepromazine does affect the cardiovascular system, so is not recommended for patients with a history of heart disease or low blood pressure. It can also lower the seizure threshold, so is not recommended in pets with known seizures. 

Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the brain to facilitate sleep. It may help anxious pets relax when given orally, but may not be effective when given alone for pets with high levels of anxiety.

Other Factors to Consider

Because the specific responses of individual pets may vary significantly, we often consider a trial sedation at home before a scheduled visit. It is very common for pets to appear more sedate at home compared to what we will see in the clinic. The duration of sedation can sometimes persist for up to a day, which is not harmful. With repeated practice and observation of how a pet responds to anti-anxiety drugs, we can often optimize the dose/timing and markedly improve the hospital experience for everyone involved. We are ultimately striving to improve the relationship between your pet and the caregivers here at Cicero Animal Clinic and improve our ability to assess and care for them.

Compassionate Care for Your Furry Friends

Cicero Animal Clinic, P.C. offers pet wellness and vaccination, surgery, chiropractic care, cold laser therapy, and more for dogs, cats, exotic pets, pocket pets, avians, and rabbits in Cicero, Brewerton, Clay, and North Syracuse, New York, and the surrounding areas.

Hours of Operation

Mon to Thur: 7am – 8pm
Fri: 7am – 5pm
Sat and Sun: Closed
*Closed Wednesday from 12-2pm.
View Our After Hours Emergency Care