Some dogs come bounding in to see us. Some dogs put the brakes on as soon as they know where they are. Some cats stroll out of their carriers and take over the exam room. Some cats cower at the back of their carriers trying to make themselves invisible.
At Blue Cross Animal Hospital we want all our patients to feel comfortable coming to see us, so our whole team is going Fear Free.
What is Fear Free?
The Fear Free program was founded by Dr. Marty Becker, with the goal to “prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety, and stress in pets”. An extensive training course has been developed to help veterinary professionals create the most positive patient experience possible for their patients’ veterinary visits. It’s called the Fear Free initiative and we are all enthusiastically on board.
To become certified all our staff members will have to complete and pass an extensive training program on how to recognize, avoid or treat stress and fear in our patients. As of now nine of our staff have achieved the certification, and more are in process. Our goal is one hundred percent certification. If you want to see who has already passed, you can identify them by the Fear Free Certified logo on their team profile page.
The seven module course emphasizes what body language and often subtle signs to look for if a pet is feeling fear, anxiety or stress (FAS). With that knowledge, and the many new techniques introduced by the program, we can then adjust the situation to help alleviate those symptoms.
Fear Free at Blue Cross Animal Hospital
Starting with your puppy or kittens’ first visit, we make the encounter fun. We go at an easy pace. We rain treats on your baby, and keep them busy and distracted eating when we have to give injections or take their temperature. We want them to not even notice us doing these things. We want them to remember, “Hey, I love this place!” when they come through the door.
For the adult pets who’ve already been here or at another animal hospital and formed memories of being at the vet, we are putting many new practices in place to make sure they are eager to come to see us.
- If you’ve been to see us recently you may notice we are feeding lots of treats, both in the waiting room and in the exam room.
- We are examining dogs on the floor as often as we can.
- Cats are being tempted out of their carriers with treats.
- If your cat doesn’t want to come out of the safe space of their carrier, and the top can be removed we will examine your cat in the base of the carrier, if they feel more comfortable.
- We are using pheromone sprays all over the hospital. The sprays we use are synthetic versions of naturally occurring calming chemicals that reduce anxiety in both our feline and canine patients.
- We have pheromone sprayed bandanas for the dogs both in the waiting room or if they are admitted to hospital. For the cats there is a pheromone diffuser in our cat ward and we can put a pheromone sprayed towel on the exam table, in their carrier, or over their heads–whatever makes them more comfortable.
- For those that are already fearful, we especially don’t want to make their fear any worse, and we want to do what we can to lower their anxiety levels. We can discuss medications to be given to your pet before their visits to calm them and reduced their stress.
We are now keeping an emotional record for every pet that comes in to see us. We record what treats they like, whether they benefit from pre-visit medication, how they like to be examined and any other information we pick up that can make your pet’s visit more Fear Free.
Why is Fear Free important?
Stress responses alter your pet’s physiology. The heart and respiratory rate go up. That makes it challenging for the veterinary team to know if the increases are a physical problem that may need to be addressed or your pet is just stressed. Over long periods of stress, wound healing can be delayed, digestive upsets can happen and other illnesses be exacerbated.
Fear is automatic in a stressful situation. A fearful animal loses cognitive control and forgets all their known cues and commands. Some frightened animals just shut down, others lash out unexpectedly. Fear also promotes the formation of strong memories that can be easily retrieved. A pet that has had a fearful experience will always react badly when put in the same situation even if it is years later. We want to minimize fear every chance we get.