By Stacey Frazier There are a huge number of pets that fail to receive the veterinary care they need simply because of the anxiety they experience when a trip to the clinic is necessary. Here at Guthrie Pet Hospital we decided to face that problem head on, leading us to become the first Fear Free certified staff in the state of Oklahoma. Fear Free is an approach to veterinary care that focuses on the sources of anxiety in pets and provides a proven method of managing fear and anxiety through considerate approach and gentle control.
Fear Free Veterinary Care
For many pets, the fear and anxiety starts before they ever leave the house. The cat carrier shows up; a leash is clipped on a free-roaming dog, and the pet thinks, “Mom wants me to get in the car? This can’t be good.” They get to the clinic, and there may be a waiting area full of barking dogs, or stressed out cats in carriers on the floor. Dogs might be pulled or pushed onto a scale, hovered over by technicians, touched without warning, or poked unexpectedly by a needle. Cats may be forced into unfamiliar carriers, placed eye to eye with strange dogs in the waiting area, or subjected to strange and unfamiliar smells.
The Fear Free approach to veterinary care teaches staff how not only how to recognize signs of fear and anxiety, but how to reduce both the likelihood of occurrence and the symptoms once they start. Many people believe that even if a pet is obviously fearful, the staff should just push on and get the visit over with as soon as possible. This might be a good idea if we could tell the dog or cat what was happening, but we can’t. They don’t know why they suddenly are on a leash or in a carrier. They are more than likely anxious about the strange smells all around them. By using Fear Free methods, we can alleviate much of the anxiety of the visit and make it a more positive experience. This will reduce the likelihood of repeated anxious behavior on the next visit.
The Fear Free approach involves recognizing anxious or fearful behavior, reducing or removing stimuli that creates anxiety or fear, redirecting the pet’s attention to a less threatening target, and reinforcing positive response through praise and reward. Reducing fear and anxiety lessens the need for forceful restraint, which can be dangerous for the staff and taxing for the animal. By taking this approach, pets can receive a safer, more complete evaluation which translates into a more accurate diagnosis and treatment.
But we can’t do it alone. For a pet to have a truly Fear Free experience, the method has to start at home. Owners need to be able to recognize basic signs of fear and anxiety. Steps need to be taken to ready their pet for their visit to the clinic, whether it be getting their dog used to a leash or bringing in the cat carrier long before the visit so the cat can become familiar and comfortable with the smell. If needed, medications can be prescribed and administered before the visit. There are many ways that our patients can experience a visit free of anxiety and fear, and it all starts with communication between our clients and our staff. Discussing a pet’s anxiety and fear issues and working together to create a plan of action will result in a happier pet, a happier vet, and peace of mind for its owner.