When you call the hospital, many of you hear the person on our end of the phone say, “Thank you for calling Blue Ridge Animal Hospital.  We are a Fear Free Certified Practice.  How can we help your pet today?”  You may blink twice and say, “What???”  So that’s what we’d like to help explain here.

We learned about the Fear Free program through veterinary conferences and other veterinary facilities and about the idea behind it.    Let’s think about it for a minute, going to the doctor, no matter what your species is, can be scary, and mentally and physically stressful.  Unpleasant things happen to you.  Strangers touch you and get in your space.  You are not at home in your comfy environment.  As humans, we can be reasoned with and learn to accept the necessities of these practices but for pets, it doesn’t work that way.  And if a pet’s person is uncomfortable with what might be happening or going to happen with their pet, that pet is going to sense their discomfort and concern and act accordingly.  And the anxiety starts before even leaving home to head for the doctor’s office.

Stress affects one’s health in negative ways so when one of our patients is stressed because they are fearful or anxious or their owner is anxious, their health can be affected in ways that are not conducive to healing and can even aggravate some conditions.  And their stress levels make it difficult for those of us in the veterinary profession to help them, both with diagnostics and with successful treatments.

So how do we go about lowering the anxiety of our patients and their people?  First, each animal and the person or persons that are attached to them is different; different in their wants, needs, security levels and personalities.  The methods we suggest and use are going to be tailored to the different needs of each patient.  Obviously, the easiest time to develop the trust between us and your pet is when your pet is young.  

But when they are older and have wised up to the fact that not everything we have to do to protect them is pleasant and that Mom or Dad are apprehensive about the visit, we have to do things a whole lot differently to help them lower their stress levels.  

We prefer to use non-chemical means when appropriate, meaning using things like Pheromones to give our patients a sense of calmness and well being, and coaching our clients on things they can do at home before the day of the appointment and helping our clients understand what we may be doing for and to their pets while they are here.  We also learned through the Fear Free program ways to handle our patients beginning at the front door of the office and continuing the entire way through their appointment. 

We learned that the old way of holding a cat, by the loose skin on the back of the neck, actually increases the cat’s anxiety; now we wrap cats in nice soft blankets and towels and let them hide their faces if they feel so moved. Cats do better if allowed to come out of their crates and carriers at their own pace and not be slid out.  Cats may feel more relaxed if given an opportunity to explore the exam room.  We made blankets to spray with Pheromones and drape over their carriers and place on the exam tables.

 We learned that the old way of holding a dog tightly often increases the dog’s fear or aggression; now we offer peanut butter and squeeze cheese and soft treats as incentives and distractions.  We learned that some dogs are less stressed if they stay with their person in the exam room but many are less stressed if we take them to the treatment room for obtaining samples and other services.  

We learned that, with both cats and dogs, sometimes it is necessary and better for the patient to take some sort of calming medication at home before even getting ready to leave home for the appointment.   

And we also learned that getting down in the floor and making friends first, and the heck with the schedule, is often going to make the appointment go more smoothly.  The colors and tone in the exam rooms matter too.  General and simple techniques can often make an entire visit better overall.  We have learned that we must be flexible and look at the world and more specifically, the appointment experience, from the viewpoint of our patients.

So, next time you call and some one greets you with “We Are a Fear Free Practice”  now you can see how much studying and implementing changes we have actually done.  And we firmly believe that many of you are actually seeing this in action when you bring your pets in to see us!

Please note: This amazingly well written and constructed piece of art was created by our very own June Holden. Thank you June for taking the time to let our Blue Ridge Family know all this information in SUCH a wonderfully written way! 🙂