What does it mean to be a “Fear Free” veterinary practice, and will you seek one out for your pet?
Everyone has felt this feeling before- the anxious and somewhat nervous feeling you get right before entering your doctors office for a problem, or even for an annual wellness checkup. Imagine how your beloved pet feels when they visit a veterinarian. Firstly, let us think about how stressful it must be just getting to the visit- they are removed from the comfort and stability of their home, in some cases they are put into a small, enclosed carrier, then they have to take a nauseating drive to a far off place they are not used to going. Upon arrival, they are forced onto a piece if metal or plastic, (the dreaded scale!), and expected to stand still. Then they meet a new person who then proceeds to poke and prob them, are removed from their guardians and poked and prodded some more. I cannot imagine the stress and anxiety a simple visit to the vet must be! Of coarse, with some pets, this is not the case. Many pets, especially dogs, love going to vet because they get treats and attention. For those pets who don’t, you will be happy to know that there is a new revolution that is starting to develop all over the country. This is called the Fear Free Initiative™ and it is changing the way your pet will feel about going to the vet. The Fear Free Movement is a basically a list of tools that veterinary practices can use to make their clinic more comfortable and pleasant, less stressful, and decrease the amount of anxiety and fear your pet may be experiencing.
Here are just FIVE of the many examples of what some veterinary clinics are doing to become more Fear Free:
- Minimizing use of a clinic’s lobby or waiting area – as this is where much chaos and activity happens in a hospital, causing stress and anxiety. Immediately entering the exam room will decrease stimulation and interaction with other animals.
- Designate species specific rooms. For example, these clinics have a special room, usually separated from the other rooms, just for cats.
- Let the pet choose where they would like to be examined. For example, most large dogs to not appreciate being lifted up and put on a cold, hard table. By letting the pet choose they place that they are more comfortable, whether this be on the guardians lap, in their carrier, or on a bed, they will feel more secure and confident during their examination.
- Working with your veterinarian to figure out the best plan for pet compliance. It is never appropriate to forcefully restrain an animal or wrestle a pet just to be able to do what the veterinarian needs to do. Work with your veterinarian to come up with a solid plan for your pet. For example, you may need to take things step-by-step and come back multiple times to get everything done that your pet is due for. Sometimes, it is appropriate to discuss anti-anxiety medication before your pet leaves the house. Having a plan established with also create a sense of routine for your pet which will, therefore, decrease anxiety.
- If using a carrier, take it out into plain sight several days before your pets visit and use pheromones to create a calm space for your pet. Although this can be unsightly in the middle of your living room, it is will desensitize your pet to the carrier and they may even start going in on their own. Feeding your pet in his/her carrier may also be a helpful technique for desensitization.
- Remain calm and comfortable during your visit with the veterinarian. We know that this can be hard, oftentimes a veterinary visit can feel extremely stressful for the guardian as well. Cats and dogs are amazingly receptive to our feelings and energy, and will sense your stress and anxiety. Take care of yourself, and prepare yourself for the veterinary visit too.
- Withhold/limit food before a vet appointment (unless medically contraindicated). This may seem odd, but pets are far more receptive to food rewards at the vet if they are hungry. Bring high value treats they would not normally get to your exam for the veterinarian and technician to use as rewards.
- If your pet is in a carrier, be sure the carrier is on a flat surface during the ride over. Many people used rolled up towels to create a flatter surface on a car seat so they are not tipping over during the drive. Also, drive with a towel over the top of the carrier to reduce stimulation.
- Bring your pet in for “Happy Visits”. Just swing by the vet hospital, have your pet get treats and pets from the staff with no poking or prodding. If time permits, let the technician or receptionist take your pet back to the treatment area, just to say hi to the staff. Maybe even practice getting on and off the scale!