Behavioral Health: Keeping Fear out of the Exam Room

September 28th, 2020 | Posted by CCadmin1* in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Behavioral Health: Keeping Fear out of the Exam Room)
By: Dr. Jackie Connolly, Associate Veterinarian for Humane Veterinary Hospitals

 Imagine you are a cat; living your best life on a sunny windowsill, thinking about when your human’s are going to bring you your next meal.  Suddenly your owner places you in an unfamiliar carrier, puts you in a moving vehicle and brings you to a place where they touch your ears, look in your mouth and poke you with needles. Scary right?  Now imagine you are a dog, about to go for a car ride. You are so excited to go to the park, but then your owner pulls up to the scary building where they trim your nails. You hate having your paws touched, especially since a few times the nail trim really hurt! Your owner pulls you by the leash and through the door as you try your hardest to pull in the other direction. When the nurse goes to pet you, you start to urinate because you are so scared of what they might do.

For many years we did not consider the emotional health of our pets, even in the veterinary setting.  Now, we know that we can do so much better to keep our patients free from anxiety and stress during their visit.  Through open communication, proper planning, and the use of toys and treats, we at Humane Veterinary Hospitals know how to make your pet’s experience at the veterinarian a good one.

Identifying Fear and Anxiety

 Since our patients cannot speak to us, we have to rely on behaviors to identify fear and anxiety.  When dogs and cats are stressed, they show many nonverbal pleas for help before reaching the point of ‘fight or flight.’   These behaviors may include shaking, tucking their tail, ears back, tense body, enlarged pupils, showing the whites of their eyes, yawning, or avoidance.  As with humans, fear may not always be rational and once our pets feel they are in danger, it can be difficult to tell them everything is going to be ok. If my patients are running from me, urinating on themselves, or trying to bite, continuing to push them is the worst thing I could do.

Luckily, our animal care team can identify these behaviors, as well as common stressors, and take action before they become a problem. We can also use rewards and distractions to keep our patients calm in uncomfortable or painful situations.


The first phone call you make to the veterinarian is the best time to voice any behavioral concerns you have with your pet. This is especially important if your pet has certain “triggers” for fear such as other dogs, men, loud noises, carriers, stainless steel tables, nail trimmers, etc.  Some pets may even have a history of lunging, biting, and scratching (the ‘fight’ response of fear) and may require sedatives for their visit.  By discussing your pet’s behavioral needs with our receptionist or nurse, we can make accommodations such as, scheduling at a less busy hour, or for a longer appointment slot. We can also address these behavioral concerns at the time of the appointment to make sure your next visit is even better!

Communication is a two way street. Our team will make it a priority to explain to you what needs to be done or what cannot be done given your pet’s emotional state. Our staff are trained in animal behavioral and body language, allowing us to identify when your pet is feeling stressed or anxious. The goal is to identify what works best for the individual patient and to make the experience positive.

Planning for Your Visit

Fear and stress in our patients may start as soon as they see their carrier or are put into the car.  As we know from dealing with stress in our own lives, it can become exponentially worse the longer we are in the situation. If a patient enters our hospital already stressed, this makes it even harder for us to ensure a positive experience for them. The good news is that there are things owners can do at home to help.

It helps to keep our canine patients retrained during transport so they do not become car sick or feel unstable. Non slip liners can be used for their comfort. Training your dog to sit calmly in the car before making a trip to the vet’s office can also be very helpful. The use of classical music, phermone sprays, and puzzle toys can also help keep your dog distracted and free from stress.

Cats are very sensitive to loud noises and changes in their environment, especially new smells and people. It is best practice to get them used to their carrier as a kitten, and leave it out at all times.  Though the use of pheromone sprays (Feliway), toys, and treats, the carrier can be made into a ‘safe space.’ I recommend my clients purchase a hard carrier that opens easily from the top. This allows our patients to feel secure, and makes it easier for us to do our examination where they feel safe.  Keeping a soft, clean blanket in the carrier and placing a towel over the carrier can keep our feline friends comfortable and allow them to hide.  Owners should never force cats into carriers or attempt to wrangle a cat who is biting or scratching. Always call your veterinarian if you are having trouble, so we can figure out a new plan that works.

The Power of the Food Reward

At the Humane Veterinary Hospital, we use peanut butter, squeeze cheese, hard treats, whipped cream and even baby food to keep your pet happy.  Sometimes this means putting peanut butter all over the wall during an exam, putting treats on the scale, or putting cheese in a muzzle. This allows us to do a physical exam, get a blood sample, or treat an ear infection without having to use heavy restraint or cause the fight or flight response. In some patients anxiety medications or sedatives can be used to improve your pet’s overall experience.  We also use pheromone sprays, towel wraps, and classical music.  Our nurses and doctors will record what works and what doesn’t work for each individual patient including their favorite foods, places they don’t like being touched, and if they do better with certain staff members.  We also offer ‘happy visits,’ or visits that allow you to bring your pet in as a training exercise, where we shower them with food and love and avoid any of the scary stuff. By doing this we can make sure that at each appointment, they are as excited to see us as we are to see them.

Focusing on keeping our patients free from fear while at our hospital is one more way we can keep them healthy. It allows us to do a more thorough examination, and get diagnostic procedures done in a timely manner.  We love when they greet us with tail wags and kisses and are committed to helping you make that happen.


A Whole New Meaning for “Drive-In!”

September 21st, 2020 | Posted by CCadmin1* in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on A Whole New Meaning for “Drive-In!”)
By: Suzanne D’Alonzo, Community Outreach Programs Manager for Humane Pennsylvania

Perhaps you’ve been to a drive-in movie.  Surely you’ve gotten fast food through a drive-in restaurant.  Maybe you have recently attended a drive-in graduation?  Well, Humane Pennsylvania is happy to give “Drive-in” a whole new meaning!

Since late spring, we’ve resumed serving our community with a new form of affordable, accessible pet care:  the Drive-in Vaccination/Microchip Clinic.  Our previous vaccination clinic offerings were walk-in models, with many people gathering in the same room- clearly something that had to be tweaked once COVID-19 struck.

Wanting to hit the ground running, we contacted other shelters and health departments that had been offering drive-in vaccination services for years to see how they had operated such clinics.  Using their tips, as well as some of their “lessons learned,” our clinics have gone smoothly.

The clinics are now popping up around Reading.  They started in our own Humane Veterinary Hospital parking lot, but it’s made sense to move them to various locations, just as we did with our original vaccine clinic model.  Each new location has the potential to expand our audience, which is just what we want:  the more people that know about the Drive-in Clinics, the better!  Different spots also mean that we get the chance to create positive new relationships with other businesses and organizations in the community, and that always opens opportunities.  For example, we’ll be in the parking lot of Nightclub Reverb for one of the October clinics (thanks, Reverb!).  Nightclubs previously had been overlooked, not coming to mind as an obvious shelter or vet hospital connection.  This gave us the chance to ask, “why not?!”  Their parking lot is a great space for our Drive-in Clinic, plus their neighborhood and their general audience are pet owners too!

So, what’s the goal of our Drive-in Vaccination/Microchip Clinics?  To get as many dogs and cats vaccinated and chipped as possible, of course!  Drive-in Clinics let us offer affordable, accessible vaccines for some of the diseases that are most dangerous to our pets.  (We’re able to provide Rabies vaccinations for dogs and cats, DA2PPV for dogs and FVRCP for cats.)  And the microchipping increases the chance that a lost pet gets reunited quickly.

It’s a Pay-What-You-Can model that lets us provide services to everyone.  Our cost is about $10 per service.  Pet owners who can pay for the services their pets receive helps cover our costs.  The pet owners who contribute a little more help us to provide services to those who can’t pay anything.  And for those pet owners who can’t afford to pay anything, it’s free; we happily vaccinate/microchip those pets too.

Pet caregivers register ahead of time, online or by phone.  This lets us keep the flow of cars going as they arrive.   Our team of staff and volunteers check clients in, line up the cars, review previous vet records, and confirm the vaccinations and/or microchips that will be given.  We serve dogs and cats on separate dates, so kittles don’t have to hear barking (we know the car ride is tough enough).  In turn, pets are taken to the vet’s station, vaccinated and/or microchipped, and placed back in their car before they know it.  Owners conveniently and safely stay in their vehicles, with the whole process taking only minutes.

Opening up Drive-in Clinic options can really be a game changer for pet owners.  It’s another tool in the toolbox for taking care of pets.  For some of our clients this is their only opportunity for veterinary care for their pet at this time.  For others, pets may get the “basic” vaccinations from us, letting their owner sock away money for additional vet care, like a dental cleaning or other vaccines their pet may need.  With COVID’s impact, our clinics are seeing an even wider range of clients, and we’re here for them all.

We’ll continue to explore how we can best serve our community.  With so many things that are currently in flux, it’s likely that we may tweak the Drive-in option or introduce new options.  What won’t change is our commitment to working towards every pet getting what they need to be happy and healthy and at home.


Weeble: An Adoption Story

September 1st, 2020 | Posted by CCadmin1* in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Weeble: An Adoption Story)
By: Laura Gibbs, Animal Care Technician for the Humane League of Lancaster County

In January of 2017, a man brought a small cat in a laundry hamper into our shelter. He said he found her on the side of the road. She was near death: pale, sick, severely emaciated, and she couldn’t walk or stand. She also had the worst ear infection I had ever seen.

After a thorough exam, our medical team was uncertain if she was going to survive. Regardless, we had hope. She was put on a strong regiment of antibiotics, and I opted to bring her home into foster care with me. I named her Weeble after those toy commercials back in the 90s, “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.”

For the first few weeks, Weeble’s care was almost around the clock. She needed medications, regular cleanings for her ear infection, and general help getting around. But through it all, she was a trooper who purred constantly and was always down for a cuddle and a head bonk. She had won me over, pretty quickly to be honest, and I promised her that if she made it through this, I would adopt her.

Then, almost a month into her stay with me, came the scariest night. I noticed something wasn’t right— she was very lethargic and just not herself. I took her temperature and my heart sank when the thermometer read 105—I ended up taking it three times in case I was wrong. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if she would make it through the night. But I stayed up with her; I had the window open in the room she was staying in with a fan on (in the middle of February) and covered her in bags of frozen peas to try and get her temperature down.

Thankfully, Weeble made it through the night. That morning, I took her to the shelter to see what we could do and get her on the path back to recovery. I will be forever grateful to my coworkers that day—she was very touch and go and her fever kept spiking, but they got her through it. A couple days and a tearful reunion later, Weeble was back at my house.

Over the next few weeks, Weeble seemed to be feeling better, so I started to introduce her to my crew at home. She and Henry (my blind cat) became inseparable and could often be found curled up in his favorite igloo bed together (while Henry groomed her). It was during this time she was well enough to be spayed, and during surgery, our vets found a large polyp that they removed and a cleft palate that they fixed. After she healed from surgery, Weeble started to play and play hard—and almost two months to the day when she was brought in was the first time she did stairs, this also happened to be the day I adopted her.

Then, Weeble very suddenly took a turn for the worse. She again became very lethargic and had an extremely high fever. We had taken her to the veterinary hospital the day before, but this time it would be different. Although her fever broke, this illness was one too many. I stayed up with her all night again, and at 4:55am in the morning, Weeble passed away.

This is not the end of Weeble’s story. She still lives on in our hearts. I even got a tattoo memorializing her, and I think of her almost every day. She taught me determination—like when I saw her play so hard she would pant and when she did steps for the first time; she fell down but got right back up and did them again. She taught me courage—for a cat that was found on the side of the road, she had to go through a lot of medications and ear cleanings multiple times a day all while she purred and made biscuits. And she taught me how to simply be happy—because I think, at the end of the day, for those good few weeks, that’s what she was… simply happy.

It’s been two years since Weeble has passed, and I wouldn’t trade the two short months I had with her for anything. I know firsthand how hard it can be to adopt those hard luck cases, but it’s always worth it… especially when you realize that you’re giving them a real chance at happiness. While you may not have them for long, for these animals, it’s all the time in the world. The rewards and the lessons they teach us outweigh the sadness they leave when they cross the bridge.