Fear Free Veterinary Visits

It is almost a standing joke, certainly an unspoken truth, that pets don’t like going to the vet.  Our own pets often don’t like for us to trim their nails, cut their fur, brush their teeth, or clean their ears, so why should we expect them to feel any better about their visits to the doctor. ( Goodness, my own blood pressure goes up a bit when I’m at a dental appointment, and I won’t even talk about “the Glove.”)

The results?  Our feline pets may hide in their carriers, or jump and hide under the table…our dogs run behind the family’s legs or cower under the chair.   Even before they get here, the cats meow as they ride over, and the dogs begin panting, often putting on the brakes at the door when they realize where they are.

So it’s no surprise that visits to the vet can cause anxiety for our pets.  But,  IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY!   Families and vets have always tried to be gentle and calming and loving as we care for our pets and our patients, but we can all do more…all do better.  We have better tools and better techniques and better medicines than ever before to make the visits themselves better. More importantly, we have a better understanding of what we can do to help reduce pet anxiety and make a visit to the vet, even if not fun, at least “Fear Free.”

How do we do this?  First, we must do this TOGETHER.  All of the efforts that we can make to help the pet feel at ease here in the office are in vain if the pet’s family is not involved in the process at home.  Imagine taking your child to the dentist, not telling them where you are going or why, dropping them off at the door, and picking them up later in the day.  Your child is going to be scared to death, and that will make the next appointment even worse.

Another critical thing to understand, and it is so sad for me to think of this, is that just like that example of our kids, some of our pets truly are terrified when they come to see the vet.  The cat that hangs on to the carrier as we try to get them out, the dog that backs up behind it’s owner, those pets are desperate and scared.  As common and as much of an expected response as those reactions may be, they are not funny…we can and we need to help our pets feel less fear.

Please do know that we understand that our patients are scared, and all of us try to reduce their fear.  We talk in soothing tones, we use the proper gentle handling techniques, we use medicines that reduce anxiety when necessary, we do our best to make the experience less frightening…because we care.  We and our team are in this profession to help and to provide comfort to pets and their families, and we don’t want our efforts to cause more fear.  Vets are called “The Gentle Doctor” for good reasons.

Just a few of the practical things we can all do

  1. Provide a secure and peaceful home environment.  Pets that feel safe and secure at home develop more confidence and less anxiety in general.
  2. Learn about pet behavior. Pets don’t always show outward signs of being stressed, and misinterpreting their responses to normal home interactions can have unintended and detrimental consequences.
  3. Help your pet develop good social skills. “Works and plays well with others” is not just a desirable grade for your child; your pet also needs to have proper opportunities to become socialized with other pets and other people.
  4. Prepare your pet for its vet visit. Allow your cat to play in and become familiar with its pet carrier (one with a top that can be removed easily is best).  Bring out the carrier days before the appointment to let the cat get used to it…many people leave the carrier out all the time; cats like to play in and rest in a secure space like that, and it makes the trip to the vet less intimidating.  Help you dog become used to short trips around town in the car; some of them never ride unless they are coming to us, and it really gets them worked up as they anticipate the visit on the way over.
  5. Please know that our pets react to our emotions; when you are anxious about the visit they are as well.
  6. Ask us questions…we know that pets and their families are anxious about the visit, and we’re happy to help make it better.
  7. We will continue to use the most comprehensive skills and techniques to gently care for your pet. We are remodeling our office to insure the most comforting environment possible, with feline and canine-specific room features to enhance the “warm-fuzzies” for your pets.  We implement our gentle handling procedures in ways that are not just noticeable to us as humans but really make a difference to animals.
  8. We can provide all of the resources you need to understand and help manage your pets’ fear. There are some tricks and tools and even some medicines that can play a role in reducing anxiety.

Obviously, there is no universal formula or checklist that will suddenly make veterinary visits fun for pets, and we don’t expect a few paragraphs to turn an anxious pet into a laid-back one.  But we do hope that by raising awareness of this issue we can begin a conversation that will help us help our pets in ways that matter.  The relationships between pets and their families has always been the focus of our profession, and certainly it is the passion of our practice. There is nothing more professionally important to us than pets and their families being happy, and there is nothing more important that we can do than help reduce patients’ fear when they come to see us.

We are proud that our office is leading the way in incorporating Fear Free principles as we serve our patients and families.  From gently handling our patients and client education to hospital design and team training, we are committed to making your pets visit as fear free as possible. Please see the resources here on our website that can help, and feel free to ask us any questions to help your pets’ visits be FEAR FREE.