In recent years, Fear Free veterinary practice has soared in popularity. Fear Free practices bring the animal’s emotional wellbeing and enrichment to the forefront, and focus on reducing the fear, anxiety, and stress in pets in the veterinary clinic. This much-needed shift in veterinary medicine has been revolutionary and is making the veterinary clinic a more positive and welcoming environment for pets and their guardians alike. Fear Free practices in vet clinics involve such changes as using treats during medical procedures, low-stress animal handling techniques, and designing veterinary clinics to minimize the noises, sights and scents that tend to create stress and fear in our animal patients. But, did you know that as a pet owner, you play a role on the Fear Free team too? Maybe the most important role of all! Here are a few tips for how you can help to improve your pet’s experience of their doctor’s office: -Acclimate your pet to their carrier The stress of the vet visit begins at home. Chasing a pet around, trapping them against their will, and thrusting them into an unfamiliar box does NOT set your pet up for a successful Fear Free vet visit! Instead, over a period of weeks, acclimate your pet to their carrier by use of treats and food. A pet who is afraid of their carrier can be won over by creeping their food dish an inch closer to the carrier every few days until eventually the pet is being fed inside their carrier. Help your pet’s carrier to be a safe space: put a comfy bed in their carrier and allow your pet to sleep in their carrier like a little “cave” everyday. In this way, your pet’s carrier becomes a place of safety and rest, and ceases to be a jail cell of doom! -Relax… take a deep breath… it’s going to be alright! Many times in the veterinary clinic, pet owners are more stressed than their pets! We understand that visiting the vet can be a stressful experience for all involved, especially if your pet is ill. Develop a trusting relationship with your veterinarian and clinic team, and then intentionally relax in the clinic to help your pet relax also. Use a calm and quiet voice, and make sure not to grip your pet too hard if you are holding them during your pet’s examination. A gentle touch and a soft voice help to communicate to your pet that they are in a safe place. Sometimes, your stress signals may be too strong to hide! In this case, your veterinarian may suggest that your pet be examined “in the back”. We know this can be nerve wracking. But we promise, we aren’t taking them away from you to harm them but to help them! Rest assured, we use the same low-stress handling techniques in all parts of the veterinary clinic and will bring them back to you as soon as possible. -Come for fun! Hahaha… what? Come for fun? Yes, you heard me. Come for free and come for fun. Get a cookie from the receptionist. A chin scratch from the veterinary technician. Measure your pet’s weight on the scale. Have a chat in the nutrition corner. Come frequently and come for fun… that way your pet doesn’t always anticipate needles, pokes and prods when you come into the clinic. Have you ever wondered how wild zoo animals get their checkups? Often, zoo keepers train a zoo animal to push its body up against the enclosure bars and get a pretend poke with a needle every day, for a treat. Then, on the day that they truly need medical care, the same routine is maintained, but rather than a pretend poke the animal will get a real sedative. Brilliant, right? The same concept can be used with your pet! Practice handling your pet in the same purposeful and methodical way that we do in a medical exam, touching all the parts of their body. Visit the veterinary clinic regularly, just for fun. That way, when your pet really needs medical care, these things won’t feel out of the ordinary. -Give the Fear Free medication to your pet if it has been recommended Ok let’s all take a minute to reset our thinking: how scared of your doctor would you have to be to actually physically tremble with fright while in their office? Terrified, right!? If your pet is a nervous wreck, trembling and hiding underneath the chair while you are visiting your veterinarian, it is time to consider anxiety-reducing medication for your pet’s vet visit. Some pet owners are very hesitant to consider accepting medication for their pet’s mental health. If your vet has recommended anxiety reducing medication for your pet during vet visits, it is because your veterinarian sees your pet’s mental anguish and wants to relieve their suffering in the clinic. Relieving their stress not only helps them to feel more at ease in the clinic, but also helps us to be able to see what’s wrong past their trembling nerves: frightened pets hide their symptoms! Don’t forget: you are the most important member of your pet’s Fear Free veterinary team. Remember your role and help us to be a source of comfort to your pet in their hour of need.
-Dr. Carly Ruiz