Taking the Pet out of Petrified: What’s all the fuss about Fear Free Vet Visits?

People my age may remember a time when Dentists expected us to just grin and bear it when it came time for their appointments, maybe were even ridiculed if they mentioned they were”scared” or if something was particularly painful. These days you hear all about taking the fear out of dental visits – calming music, ipods, videos, some even offer pre-appointment sedatives. Well veterinarians have finally realized we have been doing the same thing to our patients and a big change is coming.

Manning the charge are people like Dr. Marty Becker, the late Dr. Sophia Yin and behaviorist Karen Overall among others. Taking “the pet out of petrified” has become their anthem and we are so excited to learn their tune.

The concept is pretty basic – train our puppies and kittens to be non-fearful and less anxious and maybe even learn to LOVE coming to the vet. How do we do this? Well a lot of research has gone into this and some things are pretty easy and some are more involved.

1. Pheromones, pheromones, pheromones! There is a dog specific pheromone called Adaptil and a cat specific pheromone called Feliway. These sprays or wipes dramatically reduce anxiety in our pets. We recommend using them at home to start the process and we continue it throughout their entire visit – diffusers are in the rooms and the staff spray themselves as well as the tables and all the surfaces of the exam room.

2. Yummy treats. A hungry pet is more likely to like us if we have really yummy treats for them – fast them prior to coming in so that they can be more receptive to the high value treats we will be using.

3. Don’t baby talk you pet. Baby talk can actually make your pet more anxious; just use a calm soothing normal tone voice.

4. Our snazzy cat room has an aquarium to preoccupy your pet as well as some great perches that will make them feel more relaxed. And we plan to switch to LED lights which don’t have the hum that makes cats anxious.

5. Our exams are done where the pet feels most relaxed. We do not put big dogs on the table so that they are less anxious and many cats have been taught that jumping on a table will get them punished.

6. Less restraint. We tailor our approach to each pet to make them more relaxed.

7. Use of anxiolytics. If we have a pet that is too anxious we will send home anti-anxiety medication to relieve the stress and if that doesn’t work we will sedate completely to relieve the panic attack.

8. Pastels. Some pets may be fearful of the dreaded white coat so the doctors may switch to pastel smocks to accommodate an especially fearful patient. Studies have shown that a pastel color palette is more soothing to our pet patients.

We are very excited about this change and hope to bring a new, calming, soothing experience to your pet that will lead to many years of happiness.

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