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Dogs’ heart rates nearly double during veterinary visits

A team of researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia has found that veterinary visits can be highly stressful experiences for dogs. By measuring the heart rates of 30 dogs of various ages and breeds during a mock veterinary examination, the scientists found that one-third of the dogs’ heart rates nearly doubled between the waiting room and the examination table.

“Regular veterinary care is integral to companion dog health and welfare, but fearful patients can inhibit provision of care and pose a risk of injury to veterinary staff,” wrote the study authors. “This study aimed to identify the physiological and behavioral responses of a sample of 30 dogs of various age and breed, to a standardized physical examination in a simulated veterinary setting.”

While in the waiting room, the dogs’ average heart rate was 97 beats per minute (bpm), during the physical examination, one third of the dogs’ heart rates nearly doubled, peaking at an average value of 180bpm (with a greyhound experiencing a heart rate as high as 230bpm). The heart rates were the highest during the first stage of the examination (when dogs were patted by the examiner), as well as the last one (a simulated vaccination). By contrast, the middle stage – involving a teeth examination – elicited the lowest heart rates.

The researchers noticed that the elevated heart rates were correlated with body language showing fear, such as tails tucked between the legs or ears tilted back. Overall, females seemed to be more anxious than males during veterinary visits.

“The findings of the present study suggest a routine aspect of veterinary care, the physical examination, elicits a fear response in healthy companion dogs in a mock veterinary setting,” the authors wrote. “This means that while fear may develop relating to other animals present, sounds or odors, there may also be parts of the physical examination that provoke fear either because of a previous negative experience relating to a physical examination, or fear relating to handling.”

In order to reduce anxiety in dogs during such visits, building up a relationship with a specific doctor may be helpful, so the dogs will be familiar with him or her. Moreover, avoiding rush hours is also recommended, in order for the dogs not to get overwhelmed by the presence of other animals and people in the clinic.

The study is published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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