What is this Fear Free stuff anyway?

Hearing that your vet has become Fear Free certified may be exciting or it may just be plain confusing.  Wondering why you’re getting asked all these weird questions about your pet’s habits and your family members’ food allergies? Well, here’s the skinny.

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As long as I’ve been practicing medicine, I have always been the doctor that sat on the floor if it made my patients more comfortable, bought peanut butter and delicious bacon treats to have in my exam room and tried to take it slow with nervous patients.  Now, the Fear Free group has taken this leaps and bounds further by putting together training for veterinarians, staff and trainers with techniques to help us alleviate fear, anxiety, and stress in our patients.

When patients come to the veterinarian, we see a huge variety of responses – some dogs consider it the social event of the year and are thrilled to see everyone while others are so terrified, they might shiver, cry, go to the bathroom on the floor, and even try to bite.  I consider it a huge part of my job to keep those happy pets happy and make the scared ones comfortable. Why? Because it’s good medicine.  When we (and our pets) get stressed, our bodies undergo changes as part of a “fight or flight” response and, if those changes go on long enough, they can lead to health issues.

So how do we make your stressed out kiddo more comfortable?

  • It starts at home – some pets are stressed just getting in the car or the carrier, training your pet to see those experiences as pleasant or at least non-threatening is a huge part of making the veterinary experience a better one.  See our website for useful links and always feel free to call or email us for advice.
  • Calming features once you get to the hospital – calming pheromones provided for your pet, soothing music in exam rooms, non-threatening color scheme, and you and your pet won’t be stuck waiting in the reception area forever so they have a chance to get comfortable in the exam room.
  • Treats, treats and more treats – here’s where it is important for you to tell us if your pet or your family members have any food allergies.  Depending on the species of your pet, we will often use spray cheese, peanut butter and other goodies in addition to treats to calm them and distract them from any scary procedures.
  • Keeping your pet with you – we feel that most procedures can be done in the room with you present and that lets most pets feel safer.  Please do let us know if you have an owner-protective kiddo or if you can’t handle needles!

What do we do if your pet is super stressed?

  • Considerate handling and careful monitoring of your pet’s fear, anxiety and stress levels give use the cues we need to back off and let your pet take a break if they need it.  If the calming measures above aren’t enough, we consider medications on a case by case basis.
  • Pre-visit supplements and medications – for the very stressed out pets, we may recommend a supplement and/or medication prior to visiting us.  Although these things can cause some drowsiness for a few hours, it is worth it to give your pet a better veterinary experience.
  • Sedation – if your pet is extremely fearful, anxious or stressed, we may recommend sedation if there is an invasive procedure that needs to be performed.

Some things that may be different from many vet practices:

  • We will never pin your pet down for a nail trim (or similar) to just get it done.  We will discuss strategies with you for making it less stressful for your pet in the future.
  • We will ask you to bring your pet hungry and bring some of their favorite treats or a toy with to the visit.
  • We won’t take your pet “to the back” for most routine procedures unless there is a medical reason to do so.
  • If your pet is too frightened to come into the hospital, let us know – we can always do exams in the back of your car or on the grass outside.
  • We will invite you to bring your nervous or fearful pet by the hospital for happy visits.  Come in, get treats, say hello then go on your merry way! We can even schedule supervised happy visits with more staff interaction but no invasive procedures as a bridge to a full vet visit.

All this being said, we will never interrupt a life-saving procedure because of fear or stress – your pet’s health comes first (that’s why we do Fear Free in the first place!).

-Dr. Liza

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