Veterinary Visits- Managing for a Fear Free Return Home

Debbie Figueroa, Lead Veterinary Nurse, LVT, VTS Clinical Practice Canine/Feline

Have you ever experienced this scenario? You’ve just picked up your beloved pet from the hospital and returned home only to have your other pets act aggressively or ignore their housemate altogether! What has happened? Why are the other pets acting this way towards their housemate that they usually get along with? This is a scenario that is more common than you may think and there are a few reasons why this may occur.

First, the pet may smell different to the housemates so they act as if this is a new animal being brought into the household. Think back to when you may have tried to introduce a new kitten or puppy into the household. How did your adult pet react to this new presence? Were they standoffish, aggressive, fearful?

Second, the pet may look different to the housemates due to e-collars, shaved fur, or large bandages. This causes the housemates to be fearful, anxious, or leary of this “new” stranger in their home and they may become aggressive towards them.

Third, the returning pet may be considered weaker by its housemates because of the visible lingering effects of anesthesia that your pet may be exhibiting. This may cause the housemates to show dominance by becoming more aggressive towards them.

The good news is that there are ways to help prevent a negative reintroduction when returning home from the veterinary hospital!

Manage the Situation

-You can use a leash on the housemate(s) to slowly reintroduce them
to the returning pet.

-Confine the housemate(s) to another room, crate or behind a baby gate. This
prevents the other housemate(s) from “rushing” up to the returning pet.

Provide a Safe-Haven

If the returning pet was anesthetized and/or had a procedure that
has made them not feel 100% their normal self, they may need to have a safe place for
them to recover and relax without any other pets around. Once the pet is back to themselves, you can then implement a controlled
reintroduction to the household.

Mix their Scents

-Smell is very important to our pets, especially for cats; they
use smell to recognize each other. Since the returning pet may smell
like surgical scrub, grooming products, or antiseptics, the housemate(s)
may be sensitive to these scent changes.

-You can counter this by rubbing a towel on the returning pet and
then rub that towel on the other housemate(s). Do this 2-3 times and
then leave the towel out in the environment so each pet can get
used to each other’s scents again.

-You can use calming pheromone products, either Feliway for cats or
Adaptil for dogs, to promote a more harmonious reintroduction.

Take a Walk

If appropriate, take each dog for a walk together. This distraction of doing a
normal activity together, on neutral territory can help reintroduction go
more smoothly.

Play Session

For cats, a play session can be a distraction (Post-operative would not be an appropriate situation for this strategy).

Three Second Rule

-It is normal for the other housemate(s) to want to “smell” the returning pet, however,
prolonged smelling can cause anxiety and stress to the returning pet.

-Introduce and enforce the 3 second rule for smelling. If the smelling is lasting longer than
3 seconds, gently redirect your pets attention by calling their name in an upbeat
tone, gently clapping your hands or direct them to a treat jar or favorite toy. You
want to keep it calm to avoid additional tension.

-If you notice excessive interest in the returning pet or body-language that
indicates fear, anxiety, or stress; such as, freezing, hissing, growling, hiding or
walking slowly; separate the pets and work on a more gradual reintroduction.

By following these tips, your household will hopefully be back to normal in no time. Just be
aware that this reintroduction is dependent upon each individual pet and the situation. Some
pets take just a few minutes to resume a normal relationship again, while others may take hours to even a day or two to welcome the returning pet into the household.

If you have any questions, please call to speak with one of our licensed nurses for more ideas and suggestions.