Fear Free Approach is Thriving

Representatives from the Fear Free Certification Program recently announced that approximately 5,500 veterinary professionals have achieved certification status and 14,000 more are in the midst of doing so. These are some monumental statistics given that the Fear Free approach was conceptualized just a few short years ago by Dr. Marty Becker, a wonderfully innovative and caring veterinarian. When he first told me about this new idea percolating in his brain, he was over-the-top excited. His mantra, “Take the ‘pet’ out of ‘petrified,” has caught on big time and his Fear Free Program has provided a win-win-win situation for veterinary professionals, their clients, and, most importantly, their patients.

In developing Fear Free, Dr. Becker recruited a 160-member advisory panel including practicing veterinarians, technicians, hospital and animal shelter designers, board certified veterinary anesthesiologists, and specialists in animal behavior.

Fear Free objectives

The objectives of the practice of fear free veterinary medicine include:

  • Reduction or removal of anxiety triggers that can cause pets to become fearful at home during house call visits or en route to and within the veterinary hospital
  • Enhancement of the quality of medicine
  • Increased compliance with treatment recommendations
  • Improved safety for the veterinary team

“The success of this program is owed to three main factors,” says Dr. Becker. “First, Fear Free is the right thing to do; nobody gets involved with veterinary medicine to make life worse for animals. Second, Fear Free allows veterinary professionals to practice a higher quality of medicine while elevating care for their patients. Finally, pet owners are actively searching for individuals with certification to take care of their pets, so practitioners are flocking to certification because of market demand.”

In order to achieve Fear Free Certification status, students immerse themselves in learning about a variety of topics examples of which include canine and feline behavior and body language, ways to minimize stress in the waiting room, gentle handling techniques, the use of treats and pheromones, and the use of complementary therapies and medications that can help reduce fear, anxiety, and stress.

Dr. Thomas Meyer, current president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, expressed his feelings about Fear Free by stating, “Fear Free has added an amazing fresh perspective in our professional interactions with our patients and clients. Our entire veterinary team has bonded to make sure each pet’s visit is a positive and enjoyable experience. Our clients see how we embrace the human-animal bond by our commitment to a Fear Free visit. This is a game changer and must for every pet.”

What Fear Free things happen at your veterinary hospital?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at http://www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.



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4 Comments on “Fear Free Approach is Thriving

  1. Layout of the waiting room is important. My vet has separate entrances and areas for dogs and cats. In between is an area with shelves of pet food and treats. If my dog gets restless we walk over to the shelves and he sniffs the food bags. The seating is benches against the wall so he can jump up next to me, or get behind my legs if feeling insecure. There are also quilt mats on the floor. The receptionist offers treats. Wait time is usually minimal and there is adequate space so dogs aren’t crowded together. Adaptil is used in the exam rooms along with ample treats. The vet doesn’t hesitate to get down on the floor with the dog. I am able to accompany my dog back into the clinic area for shots other minor procedures and even ultrasound. I’m also able to visit and spend as much time as I want if the dog is hospitalized. They have 24/7 nursing care for my peace of mind.

    Other vets I have used have small waiting rooms which become stressful if multiple pets are present. There’s also a lack of coordination with clinical staff to minimize wait times. The front desk staff get busy answering phones, making appointments, doling out flea prevention meds, etc while I struggle with an increasingly anxious dog.

    Thanks for addressing this important topic!

  2. Aromatherapy. Beautiful glass and wood waiting room surrounded by trees and nature outside. Small practice with only one or two other animals there at the same time. Vet waits until my dog is settled down before taking us — her desk and the waiting room are open and visible. She is generous with the liver treats. She speaks and moves slowly and confidently. She is gentle and genuinely likes animals.

  3. Such excellent advice. Thank you Dr. Marty!

  4. Happy puppies and kittens at Veterinary Village in Lomira WI! http://www.smallanimalclinic.com

    I love the concepts of gentle veterinary visits. I don’t like the terminology – “fear free” or “low stress” as they have a negative connotation in the title. We are using the terminology “Gentle Veterinary Care.”

    It is only fitting – we are Iowa State grads – home of the “Gentle Doctor”.

    We work very hard with our puppy and kitten visits to make their formative veterinary visits happy and painless. We want them to think they are at a restaurant, not a veterinary clinic. It is easy for the first visit or 2 – they are easily distracted by food – chicken baby food, peanut butter and squeeze cheese. But as they mature, they become more body aware – they start to realize that we are doing stuff to them. Thermometers, needles, otoscopes – the works. Cats are more body aware than dogs and some breeds of dogs are more sensitive than others. But we try our very best to fool them.

    My reason for writing this is today as I was reading a journal, I came across an article about a clinic that is practicing “Fear Free Medicine”. In that article, the veterinarian was quoted as saying she treats all patients with anti-anxiety medications. To me, that is over the top. It isn’t that we want to deny anyone needed treatment to make their visits easier on the pet or the owner. It is just that I can’t imagine needing to treat everyone with anxiety medication. It is like putting every kid in a classroom on medication for ADHD. Most of the patients we see handle their visits well – with no or little angst. But some of them do need help – either an herbal anti-anxiety preparation, a pheromone like Feliway for cats and Adaptil for dogs, or full on pharmaceuticals for the especially shy or worried.

    We are marking records with a notation of the pet’s reaction to being at our veterinary hospital, using green, yellow and red dots. We don’t want to profile anyone but we do want to communicate among each other how a pet responds to our presence.

    To me, it isn’t hard to imagine why some patients need intervention to make their visits better for them. As Suzanne Clothier would say: “How is this for you?” “How is this for you?” moving slowly closer and closer with tasty treats.

    What truly surprises me is that so many dogs let us as humans do so many odd things to them without complaining. Not only can we take their temperatures and draw their blood, but we can lay them upside down in the dark with strangers wearing lead, away from their owners, and take an x-ray unsedated. Or we can close a wound with a local anesthetic and staples, using cheese (yes, cheese makes everything better) and their owner giving them moral support.

    We do nearly everything with owners present in our hospital. With the exception of x-rays where we keep owners on the other side of the door to protect them from dangerous radiograph beams. Or leaving their owner on the other side of the glass surgery window, where they can watch but not touch. We have nothing to hide from owners. We don’t understand veterinary practices where they take pets “into the back” to do strange and mysterious things to dogs and cats.

    If your pet has a strong food preference, please bring their favorite treat along – tennis ball or salmon snack. And don’t feel bad if we want you to come in for visits when the practice is quiet so your pet can acclimate to us and the surroundings and feel more at ease for future visits. It is well worth your time.

    There are videos on line for how you can help your cat become more comfortable traveling in their cat carrier. https://catfriendly.com/keep-your-cat-healthy/cat-friendly-practice/

    We want to start offering puppy acclimation classes this fall. We are also planning to start offering puppy day care in the little blue building we moved on site in May – as soon as we can plant it on a new foundation. This should also help your young dogs adjust to what we do.

    We are having a staff in-service this week for improving our gentle patient handling.

    We know working hard at the early visits makes everything better, faster, smoother and easier when our puppies and kittens mature.
    Marty Greer DVM JD

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