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What is 'White Coat Syndrome' and What Can We Do About It?

By: Jeff Noce, i4C Innovations President

Here at Voyce™, we talk a lot about “white coat syndrome” and how that affects pets during visits to the vet.

But what exactly is “white coat syndrome?"

Think about your last visit to the doctor. Maybe you were getting blood drawn and you happen to hate needles. Or perhaps you were there to hear test results. Or it could have just been a routine checkup.

If you felt yourself getting anxious, if your palms started sweating, if your blood pressure was higher than normal, that is “white coat syndrome.” The name comes from doctors’ white coats, and the nervous reaction that a doctor’s office environment can cause.

This response isn’t uniquely human; animals experience it, too.

Unless you have a very laid back pet, he is likely stressed to some degree when visiting the veterinarian.

There are many things that contribute to this syndrome in animals. First, they are in a strange place with many odd smells and sounds, surrounded by other pets and people they don’t know. In addition, they may not had great past experiences at the vet. It’s possible that they were poked and prodded, handled in uncomfortable ways or had to undergo surgery.

How do you know if your pet has “white coat syndrome”? Symptoms to watch for include panting, pacing, whining, hiding, lip licking and “whale eye” (his eyes becoming so wide and unblinking that you can’t see the whites).

Not surprisingly, this type of heightened stress makes it difficult to get an accurate reading on many vital signs including heart rate, respiratory rate and even some blood work.

Since pets can’t tell their doctors if they’ve been feeling tired or unwell, vital signs are the best clues to your pet’s overall health. Inaccurate readings can result in a missed diagnosis or false results that lead to avoidable medications or tests. So it’s essential to take steps to reduce or avoid “white coat syndrome.”

Start Young
i
f you have a puppy, take her to the vet for no other reason than treats and cuddles from the staff. This helps set up the vet’s office as a happy place, not a scary one.

Take Familiar Items
If you have a small dog who feels comfortable in his carrier, allow him to stay in there while in the waiting room. A larger dog might be able to relax on their favorite bed or blanket.

Go During Off-Peak Hours
Try to determine your vet’s least busy time and day, and make an appointment then. The less activity, noises and other animals, the less stressed your pet may be.

Stay Calm
Like children, dogs take their cues from their guardians about whether they have reason to be afraid. Focus on projecting relaxed, soothing body language.

Use Voyce to Monitor the Other 364 Days
While it is possible to reduce your pet’s stress at the vet, it’s difficult to eliminate it entirely. Even if your pet is one of the few who actually enjoys going for her checkup, her excitement alone could be enough to skew test results and vital signs.

Because Voyce monitors your pet whether they’re sleeping, eating or playing, it gives a more complete picture of their true “normal.” By studying this feedback, your vet can more quickly and accurately pinpoint areas of concern or potential problems.

Are you curious to learn more about Voyce monitoring and “white coat syndrome”? E-mail questions to askjeff@mydogsvoyce.com.

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Jeff Noce is the President of i4C Innovations. Jeff has owned both Labrador Retrievers and Mastiffs, and today his family includes Scout, an English Mastiff (pictured in the image at the top of this page) that accompanies him to work each day.

Jeff’s weekly blog posts can be found every Tuesday and Thursday, right here on MyDogsVoyce.com.