“Fear is the most damaging emotion a social species can experience.” (Becker, Radosta, Sung, and Becker, 2018) These are very powerful words and we, as veterinary professionals, take it to heart that this is the experience some of our canine and feline patients have when coming to the vet. For some of them, the visit may be one of fear, anxiety, or stress, often starting at home before they have even set a paw in the clinic. Canines and felines can suffer from social anxiety in much the same way we humans do and what we perceive as a simple trip to the vet’s office can be a major undertaking for them. It is not the intention of any veterinary professional to cause fear, anxiety, or stress to the patients we are trying to help.
We believe that veterinary visits do not have to be scary ordeals for our patients and would like to introduce you and your pet to a better way. This new concept is called Fear Free and the ultimate goal is to take the “pet” out of petrified. This movement focuses on taking the emotional well-being as well as the physical well-being of our patients into consideration at every visit. We have been looking at the veterinary visit from their perspective in an effort to recognize the things that can cause stress for them. Doing this has allowed us to take a fresh look at how things such as physical exams, vaccinations, blood draws, nail trims, and hospitalized care affect our patients on an emotional level. As a result, and we are developing ways to alleviate their fear, anxiety, and stress in these situations.
If you have visited our clinic in the past year you have probably noticed some of the changes we are implementing to make the visit more pleasant for your pet. There is now calming music playing in our reception area, exam rooms, surgical prep area, and hospital ward. Believe it or not, studies have been done to discern what types of music are soothing to our furry companions and the two genres found to be most effective are classical and reggae. Since implementing the music, we have seen a noticeable difference in the level of anxiety of several of our hospitalized patients and those coming in for their yearly vaccine appointments.
Upon entering the clinic, you have probably been greeted at the door with a bandana for you dog or a blanket to put over your cat’s carrier. These items have been sprayed with species specific pheromones designed to help alleviate stress and calm your pet. Our doctors have shed their white lab coats for ones with muted color tones that are more soothing to our patients. (Studies have found that for dogs the color white actually fluoresces and can make the object appear to glow. Imagine how scary that must be having a glowing human moving towards you?)
We have treats in ready supply for every appointment! The idea behind all of the food is to have high value treats for our patients that help distract them during the visit and make things such as nail trims and vaccines not so scary. Peanut butter in a cup or ice cream cone, soft chews, cream cheese, liver paste, canned food, and shredded chicken are just a few of the menu options. Please bring your pet hungry whenever possible!
We are paying attention to your pet’s body language and learning to pick up the signals (some subtle and some not so subtle) that tell us they are uncomfortable with what is happening. We’ve incorporated different handling techniques to help reduce stress. In addition, we have done away with the old adage that exams and procedures must be performed on the exam table – we want your pet to be comfortable, and have successfully performed exams, vaccines, nail trims, and blood draws on the floor, a wall perch, their carrier, and even an owner’s lap.
In spite of our best efforts we have some patients that just need some extra help managing the anxiety and stress that a visit to the vet causes. For these patients we have medications that can be prescribed to be given prior to their appointment to help reduce their anxiety and make the visit easier for them. If you feel your pet would benefit from some pre-appointment calming medication please don’t hesitate to ask.
Every effort is made to do as many things as possible for your pet in the exam room in your presence. You are a source of comfort for your pet and it can be scary for them to be separated from you to have procedures done. With the exception of some diagnostics that cannot physically occur in the exam room, we try to contain the entire appointment to that one area.
Our commitment to offering Fear Free visits is part of our continued goal to provide you and your pet with a superior level of medical care. We currently have a handful of Fear Free Certified Professionals on our staff and are working towards becoming a Fear Free Certified Clinic. We encourage you to participate in this journey with us as we strive to reduce and, hopefully, eliminate fear, anxiety, and stress for your pet at every visit. For more information please visit www.fearfreehappyhomes.com or speak with a staff member. We would love to share Fear Free with you and your pet!
References Becker, Radosta, Sung, and Becker. (2018). From Fearful to Fear Free. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.
Carol Hudecek, LVT Columbia Animal Clinic