What is “Fear Free” and what does it mean for your pet?

Both Dr. Shari and Dr. Melissa have been certified with Dr. Yin’s Low Stress Handling course, which teaches animal behavior, handling, and gentle restraint.  Dr. Shari is a Fear Free Certified Professional via Dr. Marty Becker’s Fear Free initiative (www.fearfreepets.com).  

Dr. Shari was so passionate about creating a more calming experience for animals, she ended up building the first Fear Free from the ground up veterinary clinic in the country.  

Fear Free Design Components

  • Easy-grip flooring
  • Natural light throughout building
  • Feline Wing: allowing nearly complete separation of cats from dogs
  • Private Rooms, Sun Rooms, and Patio exam rooms
  • Environmental Enrichment in Cat adoption area and exam rooms
  • Kennels modified for privacy and comfort
  • Soothing colors, sounds, and fragrances
  • One-way patient flow to minimize unwanted interactions
  • Check-out in exam room to avoid waiting at the reception desk to check out
  • Fold-away exam tables for increased “personal space” or floor exams
  • Areas for cats to hide or play—their choice
  • Whisper latches and glass fronts for kennels
  • Private ICU/Recovery Room with viewing area
  • Heated recovery kennels

Fear Free Visits

The most important concept regarding Fear Free visits is taking into consideration the pet’s emotional AND physical well-being. Decreasing Fear and Anxiety for a pet’s visit is a TEAM effort. Here’s what we all can do.

What YOU can do:

  • Deliver your pet to the veterinary clinic calm and relaxed.
  • Avoid conveying your own concerns by not talking or keeping your tone conversational, not “soothing. If you’re concerned, then they must need to be too, right?
  • Desensitize your cat to its carrier (see video) and use a carrier cover.
  • Don’t carry the cat carrier by the handle. This jostles your kitty! Hold it in front like a precious package.
  • Use pheromones (soothing fragrances) or nutraceuticals (natural anti-anxiety medications) prior to the car ride.
  • Bring a favorite toy, bed or treat.
  • Limit food the day of the visit to make treats more desirable and distracting.

Once you arrive:

  • Watch for signs of anxiety or fear. There are posters in each exam room to help you identify subtle signs.
  • If your pet shows any signs of fear or attention-seeking behavior, the best thing to do is to remove your attention.
  • Do not pet, talk to, or look at an anxious pet. This actually feeds the fear! If you can sit quietly reading a book or catching up on your Candy Crush game,  your dog or cat will sense this is a place they can relax. Before you know it, they will be exploring the room and maybe even greeting the doctor!
  • Allow your pet to approach the veterinary team at their own pace. The doctor will let you know if they need you to assist with the introductions.

What WE can do:

  • Carefully assess your pet’s level of fear, anxiety or stress.
  • Use lots of delectable treats.
  • Determine and use your pet’s preferred handling method and note it in medical record.
  • Allow time for our patient to relax and choose to greet us/allow treatment.
  • Use pheromones for calming.
  • Eliminate exposure to other patients in waiting area.
  • Cat-only exam rooms and treatment areas for our feline patients.
  • Use sedatives/pain management if needed to avoid further fear or anxiety.
  • Never force a procedure unless medically necessary.
  • Choose treatment options which allow the least pain and handling.  (Ask us about our needles!)
  • Plan for pre-visit anti-anxiety medications for future visits if needed.
  • Encourage “Happy Visits.”