Effect of Examination Location on Stress in Dogs

Kelly Harrison, DVM, MS, University of Florida

ArticleLast Updated June 20222 min read
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In the literature

Mandese WW, Griffin FC, Reynolds PS, Blew AC, Deriberprey AS, Estrada AH. Stress in client-owned dogs related to clinical exam location: a randomized crossover trial. J Small Anim Pract. 2021;62(2):82-88. doi:10.1111/jsap.13248

The Research ...

Routine examinations can cause stress in dogs due to exposure to unfamiliar humans and environments, hearing or seeing other patients, and separation from their owner. Stress can inhibit clinical assessment and negatively impact patient welfare. Awareness of a patient’s environment and avoiding common stressors can help the patient and clinic staff. 

This study sought to quantify the effects of wellness examinations performed in a common treatment area on indicators of fear, anxiety, and stress in client-owned dogs. Indicators were based on a cumulative score of 5 standardized behaviors (ie, body position, tail position, brow, mouth, pupils) and heart rate. A baseline examination was performed with the pet owner present, followed by 2 identical examinations in different locations (ie, an isolated examination room with the owner present and a common treatment area with the owner absent) in random order. 

Dogs had clinically significant increases in stress metrics and heart rate when examination was performed in the common treatment area away from the owner, suggesting that an overly stimulating or inherently stressful environment in addition to owner separation can increase behaviors associated with stress.  

When possible, avoiding excessive stimulation and encouraging owner presence during routine examinations are recommended.

... The Takeaways

Key pearls to put into practice:

  • Environmental factors likely influence fear, anxiety, and stress in dogs visiting the clinic. Recognizing behaviors associated with stress and factors that contribute to these behaviors are important for patient welfare.

  • Reducing stress can improve patient experience and accuracy of assessment.

  • Alleviating stress in the clinic (eg, by avoiding excessive stimulation, encouraging owner presence) is recommended when possible.