Having the meds talk with my vet

Having The Meds Talk With My Vet

Last year I wrote a blog about the events at the vet, years ago, that have made my life with Shayne so much more challenging. In a total and complete nutshell, she had two idiot vet techs corner her in the exam room (after I told them to go slow and that she was fearful) to give her a vaccine they forgot to give her before she was adopted.  She was absolutely terrified by this and peed, pooped, and expressed her anal glands (but she didn’t bite even though those dumb techs deserved it)–ever since this visit she has been a nightmare going to vets.

Shayne on her mat at the Emergency Vet office.  We found a quiet corner to sit way from the other dogs.

Shayne on her mat at the Emergency Vet office. Ironically she was more relaxed here than her normal vet.

I have spent the last 7 years trying managing and doing as much counter conditioning as possible to help her get over her fears.  We have seen improvements–in the waiting area she is no longer such a mess that she pees/poops on the floor or pants, paces, and will not take treats.  She is by no means comfortable but she can hand target, sit, down, and take treats readily–slower response and a bit sloppy but she does it.  Her problems still exists in the exam room–as long as I’m there and I’m the one restraining her, she just freezes and shakes.  Although she’s not snarling or growling or snapping, as soon as the vet tries to examine her, she tenses her whole body up and they can’t really examine her–they can’t palpate her abdomen, can’t check her ‘funny foot’ range of motion, or her other joints for issue.  For whatever reason, she was much better with our vet in NY so this wasn’t a huge issue for a few years, but since moving back we have taken steps backwards.

Up until this year (and one unfortunate year in NY where she had like three huge issues in a few months time), Shayne has been pretty much a low maintenance dog, she only went to the vet once a year and she was young and generally healthy so the vet issue wasn’t so much of an issue.  It was managed with ez-cheez, calming treats, and the fact that it just didn’t happen very often.  The last three months, with her now THREE big vet issues (yeah, if you wanted to know where I’ve been recently, blog-wise, Shayne got a slab fracture that broke off so we’ve been trying to deal with that), and the fact that she is getting older made me realize we have to make a change.  It is simply not going to work anymore with the vet not being able to appropriately examine her as she ages.

Before our most recent vet visit, on Monday, for her slab fracture, I gave her triple the ‘normal’ dose for the L-theanine based treats to see if that would help.  Even with this dosage she was a shaking, panting, eyes-the-size-of-saucers nervous dog, even in the waiting room (although she could take treats and listen to cues and I suspect it was made worse by a reactive dog barking and lunging towards her from across the room).  Having tried all the over the counter relaxation solutions that I know of (plus calming music on the way up and once used a thundershirt), I decided I had to talk to the vet about a regular prescription for her vet anxiety issues (our vet in NY had written her a very small prescription years ago to try).

So during our visit, I asked the vet I was seeing about the possibility of getting a prescription for something to help her anxiety during vet visits and only vet visits since that is the only time she’s a total mess.  I walked into the appointment knowing that a benzodiazepine was the route I wanted to take with Shayne.  This is the class of drugs that I felt would be the best fit for the issues she has–they are fast acting and can be used “as needed” which is what she needs.

I told the vet that I was thinking about using a psychopharmaceutical to help reduce her anxiety/fear during vet visits.  I explained that although she was not growling, snapping, or biting during exams, that she was never being examined the way she should be because she was so tense.  He kept saying, “well she is doing pretty well today” which was really frustrating because this is the second time she was “examined” by him recently and his “exam” was looking in her eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and listening to her chest.  He never really examined her at all, he checked her vitals. The time before the last two visits, this same vet did try to examine her more and he made the comment, “wow she just clenches up, I can’t really get a feel of her abdomen or check her joints.”

I told him that I wanted to try a drug in the benzo family to see if we can help her.  He responded by suggesting we use acepromazine instead.  This really caught me off guard because no vets in the ‘know’ prescribe Ace for fear/anxiety issues.  There are a lot of problems with using this drug for anxiety, fear, or aggression in dogs and knowledgeable vets never suggest it.  I could write a few paragraphs to explain why, but perhaps this video of Dr. Karen Overall, a highly regarded veterinary behaviorist would be better, since you know, she IS an expert.

So, you see, there are lots of reasons to never use Ace for anxiety, fear, or aggression issues.  I told the vet that I was absolutely not comfortable giving Ace and I pretty much told him the exact reasons that Dr. Overall used (though not as articulately as I would like I’m sure).  He seemed a bit taken back that I knew this stuff and he then opened up to other suggestions. This initial suggestion of Ace made me realize that he was probably not the right person to discuss behavior meds with but Shayne still needed something since with the tooth, she will be requiring more vet care soon.  We talked about using diazepam (valium) or alprazolam  (xanax) instead.  He suggested trying xanax first, which I was fine with, though it too has some drawbacks and isn’t always used.

I left with a prescription for xanax but I also left with questions about staying at my vets office.  This is a place that I have felt less and less comfortable with over the last few years as it has grown and had huge staff changes.  There are a lot of little things that have led me to really consider leaving them as my primary care place for the dogs, but the big thing is that I no longer feel really comfortable there.  The support staff I used to love and who knew me and all my animals by name and voice on the phone have all left and the new staff  (including the 2 new vets) just doesn’t wow me.  You all may be privvy to the journey of finding a new vet, so hang on to your hats!

  1. I once had a vet suggest exploratory surgery for my cat’s first episode with a urinary tract infection. I said I needed to think about it and he prescribed antibiotics. I went home and talked to my aunt who is a nurse. She siad they don’t do that with people, she didn’t know about cats. So I began doing some research on it. I discovered that the first line of defense was long term (a month) of antibiotics and a diet change. So while we were taking the first 7 days of antibiotics I looked for a new vet. My new vet was appalled at the intrusive way the last one got a urine sample and told me a really simple way to do it! Then he put my cat on a month of antibotics and a prescription food. She NEVER had another urinary tract infection in the following 20 years!

  2. Hi,
    The video wasn’t live, just a photo of the vet presenting the information.

  3. Tena,

    I feel your pain RE the vet visits. One of my dogs has hated the vet since he was a tiny puppy (he was a rescue and at 8wks they could barely contain him) and we still struggle with it though its gotten mildly better. He sounds like Shayne–he has never threatened to bite, he just tenses up and/or goes into what I call “Incredible Hulk” mode–he’s only 50lbs but there is no stopping him once he decides he’s not going to cooperate.

    At one point I had a vet lecture me, in a not so nice tone, about getting my dog “some training.” I told her I had come straight from an agility seminar and that I was a CPDT. That shut her up but let me assure you, she and I never crossed paths again.

    I’ve tried figuring out how to find vets who have gone through Sophia Yin’s training, but, havent got far with that. Finally I threw in the towel with traditional vets and now have a holistic vet and a chiropractor who have made strides with him. Eventually though we will have to go back to a “normal” vet and it upsets me just thinking about it.

    DINOS just recently posted a compiled list of vets who are great at handling difficult dogs on their site;
    Check that out and see if there is one in your area. Your current vet sounds like a dud, keep looking. No need to fork over that much money to someone who you nor your dog feel good about in the first place… Best of luck.

    Liz and Phin-Hulk

    • Thanks Liz! I hadn’t seen the vet page on the DINO site! You are so right that it’s not worth giving over huge sums of money to someone I don’t trust tons and my dog is more miserable than she has to be!

      I really appreciate the support! I’m glad you’ve been able to find the RIGHT vet for you! Gives me hope that i’ll find the right one for me…err, for Shayne 🙂

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