Fear Free is the concept of practicing veterinary medicine that involves reducing stress in our patients, which in return will result in a better experience for all involved — including pets, owners, and the veterinary team.
Fear Free was created by “America’s Veterinarian” Dr. Marty Becker, who has devoted his life to pets’ health and those who love them. He has written numerous books, serves on advisory boards for humane organizations, and is an adjunct professor at multiple veterinary colleges.
The Fear Free concept is based on recognizing and taking steps to reduce fear, anxiety, and stress (referred to as FAS) associated with visits to the veterinary hospital and requires good communication between the owner and the veterinary team.
To reduce FAS, we first must understand how our canine and feline patients communicate signs of FAS to us. Common signs of FAS in a dog are: a tense face, lips drawn back, tail down, body lowered, dilated pupils, snarling or growling. Common signs of FAS in a cat are: tucked tail, crouched posture, hissing, pupils dilated, and ears pinned down to the side. The first step in addressing FAS is discussing any concerns you have about coming into the veterinary hospital or known stressors for your pet. A stressor can be any experience, environment, an inanimate or living object that disrupts the body’s normal functioning state. Examples of stressors to pets include noise, odor, pain, disease processes, and unfamiliar people. Our goal is to reduce stress as it negatively affects pets, owners, and the veterinary team. Ultimately, it can result in decreased veterinary wellness visits, a decreased ability to appropriately examine and treat the pet, and slower recovery from disease or injury.
The first point where we can reduce FAS is getting the pet to the veterinary hospital. Long before being transported to our hospital, cats (and small to medium dogs) should be acclimated to their carriers being safe havens at home. The carrier should be left out in an area of your home where your pet likes to be, with soft, comfortable bedding or a non-slip mat for dogs and with a top-off option to make it more accessible. The bedding can be sprayed with a cat (Feliway) or dog (Adaptil) pheromones, and toys can also be added for extra incentive. If transporting a medium to large dog, an approved restraint device should be used. Pheromone sprayed bandanas can be used in medium to large dogs. As with carriers, medium to large dogs should be acclimated to wearing their restraint device at home. The carrier or pet should be secured in the back seat. Your drive should be low stress, avoid hard stops or starts, and calm music or silence.
Once you have arrived at the veterinary hospital, cats and dogs are kept in separate waiting areas to reduce stress in the waiting area, and cat carriers will be kept elevated off of the floor on a sturdy table with a pheromone sprayed towel covering it. Dogs should be leashed and kept close to you to minimize stress and interaction with other pets. If your pet is experiencing high FAS in our waiting area, then you will be moved into an exam room by one of our client care representatives.
To encourage a positive experience and decreased FAS, rewards such as treats, toys, or petting/brushing will be used during their exam or when obtaining diagnostics as long as it is not contraindicated based on why your pet is at the hospital. It is also important that you and our team be calm, speak in quiet voices, and for our team member to approach your pet in a slow manner as dogs and cats are sensitive to loud noises and quick movements. If additional restraint is needed for a procedure such as obtaining a blood sample or blood pressure, our team members may use things like a towel wrap, basket muzzle, or Elizabethan collar to ensure the patient is adequately restrained and comfortable during the process. If restraint is causing significant FAS, then giving a mild sedative will be recommended by Dr. Megan to ensure that the necessary diagnostics can be obtained in the least stressful way for your pet.
Overall the goal at Latah Creek Animal Hospital is to make the veterinary experience the least stressful as possible for your pet, which will, in turn, make it less stressful for all involved. In some instances, it can also be beneficial for Dr. Megan to provide a mild sedative for you to give to your pet at home before coming into the veterinary hospital if your pet has significant anxiety or stress associated when coming in for veterinary visits. If you feel that your pet may benefit from taking medication before their veterinary visit to reduce stress, then have a discussion with Dr. Megan or one of our veterinary nurses, as ultimately communication is key in these situations. There are many different options for pre-visit medications based on the health status of your pet. The strategies that best work for each pet are recorded in their medical records for future reference and updated as needed.
If your pet is having surgery or it is medically necessary for your pet to be hospitalized, our veterinary team has guidelines in place to minimize FAS as much as possible during their stay because increased stress in a patient can delay healing and recovery. We work to minimize loud noises in the hospital, such as beeps, talking, barking, or loud animals, as well as minimize smells, since dogs and cats have a keen sense of smell, by cleaning surfaces and equipment between patients, changing scrubs if needed, and placing calming pheromone diffusers around the hospital. You may also hear or see music or white noise machines as they provide interference with any noise that must occur. Lighting can be dimmed in some areas of the hospital; pets are given soft bedding and places to hide and a privacy curtain to make them more comfortable. When moving a pet around in the hospital, whether it be for a walk outside, physical exam, or medical procedure, it is done slowly and calmly, minimizing any interaction with other patients, providing open doorways and non-slick mats if needed. At times, mild sedatives or anti-anxiety medications can be used in the hospital to reduce FAS in a stressed patient if needed and, if not, contraindicated based on the medical needs. The Fear Free concept doesn’t stop at the lobby or exam room: it extends throughout the entire hospital and is as much a priority of the veterinary team as the medical care for your pet.
Fear Free is a newer concept over the last few years in veterinary medicine which aims to recognize and reduce fear, anxiety, and stress associated with visits to the veterinary hospital. Achieving this takes effort and requires active communication between you and our veterinary team. Still, the reward is a better experience and less stress for all involved — the pet, owner, and veterinary team.
To learn more about Fear Free veterinary care, click here.