Fear free clinics
What is a fear free clinic? It is a veterinary surgery that promotes the practices, methods, and tools that calm veterinary patients and create low-stress environments to encourage better healthcare and happier clients.
A pet who hates coming to the vet causes stress to their owner and is not an easy patient to examine. Consequently, we see them less often. Sometimes, disastrously, we don’t see them soon enough to prevent life threatening conditions or relieve chronic pain.
There should be no “pet” in “petrified” when visiting our clinic.
To this end we have few strategies we are employing, to ensure everyone – pets, owners and vets enjoy being at the vet surgery.
1. Help you deliver a calm animal to the surgery.
The owner’s role in taking a pet to the veterinarian is the first step, often the most important one. To deliver a calm pet owners must:
- condition to the car or the carrier For fearful animals this needs to be a gradual process of conditioning and habituation.
- For cats – follow our top tips to condition your cat to the carrier: Cat and kitten care / 4 tips to get your cat to the Vet
- For dogs — see Dr Cam’s behaviour page. He taught us 24 years ago in vet school and his page has a wealth of ideas, depending on your pooch.
- The use of pheromones to calm your animals may be indicated. Feliway in cats and Adaptil in dogs are over the counter products you can use, which may help your pet in stressful situations.
- If all else fails, then it may be necessary to prescribe a aneurolytic drug to you pet, to decrease the stress in coming.
2. Limit food before appointment so food treats are more effective.
If the pet’s appointment is around its meal time, the pet owner should feed a smaller amount of the pet’s food (unless medically contraindicated). This is so the pet will respond better to food rewards at the veterinary hospital. Also, if the owner could bring some of the pet’s favorite treats to the appointment, this will help.
3. Minimize use of the clinic waiting area.
Half hour appointments as standard means that, in a normal situation, there should not be more than 1 person in the waiting room at any one time. A normal pet can wait no more than 10 minutes in a waiting area, with another animal.
Our waiting room is designed that there is 2 waiting areas that are out of sight and smell of each other. So no strange animals should have to wait next to each other.
We also have a waiting area outside, in case your pet really doesn’t like it.
Because life is messy or emergencies happen, we like to move animals into an exam room as fast as possible, giving preference to cats. By allowing them to wait in there, your pets can explore the consult room, decreasing their stress levels.
We have also removed any life-like photos of cats from the waiting room. While they are cute and decorative, studies have shown that they are very stressful for our feline clients.
4. Cats should be in covered carriers, up off the floor.
Hope for the best, plan for the worst. If you cat does have to wait, the nurses are instructed to ensure the cat carriers are covered, to allow the cats to hide. Also, cats are happier OFF the floor. So, rest them on the convenient chairs and tables we have set up. It is these principles that have earn use a silver “cat clinic” accreditation.
5. Create a calm examination room.
This may involve strategies such as increasing the warmth, examining your pet on the floor or in your lap. Sometimes, it involves examining them out of your presence, if you are stressed or they are very protective.
We may provide a non-slip surface for the exam table, use a towel for cats to hide under, or let them roam while we take a clinical history.
We may even place a thundershirt on your dog, to calm him down. These have been shown to decrease anxiety by applying gentle, constant pressure, similar to swaddling an infant.
6. Treats, treats and even more treats
These may be given in an attempt to woo your pet into accepting we are not such a bad place after all. Some clinics report giving 60 small treats in 15 minutes!! A crazy amount, given we are often advising on obesity problems. But we certainly have increased the number and type of treats we are giving. Cheese, peanut butter, Greenies, liver treats and Royal Canin low fat treats are all at hand.
Treats BEFORE we do anything is better than AFTER something painful or stressful has occurred.
They are also useful as a distraction technique when needles need to be given.
7. Make the exam as painless as possible.
Taking the pet’s temperature and checking down their ears are 2 of the most annoying times for your pet. These things are often done last, to avoid upsetting your pet. If not clinically relevant, they may even be skipped over.
By using the smallest size needle, local anaesthetic creams and gentle handling techniques. the initial exam should be as painless as we can make it. If it is obviously too painful to exam, we will sedate your pet, if medically possible. This stops pets from developing anxiety about coming to the vets, as well as being an important animal welfare consideration.
8. Happy Visits
Every owner who has does puppy pre-school with us comments that their dog LOVES coming to visit. It doesn’t matter how many times they come, the positive early visits outweigh everything. If your pet is very fearful, we suggest you come for a few “happy visits.” Usually best at lunch, so there is no other animals around, just coming in, sitting in he waiting room with a calm owner and getting a few treats, can teach your dog that it is not always a bad thing to come to the vets. You may find that, in future, vet visits become something they look forward to.
9. Good hospital design.
We are lucky in that we designed out new surgery with animal welfare in mind.
Some design elements are:
- Separate cat and dog wards, with the ability to individually control the climate in both rooms.
- No animal can see another animal from their cage
- Cats get a separate blanket to hide under, or a calming blanket over the front on the cage until they are needed for surgery, except for when they are recovering from surgery.
- Feliway diffuser is on in the cat ward at al times.
- There are some cages where the pets can see outside, to add a distraction to their stay in hospital. These are often given to hospitalised animals.
In certain circumstances, when we are dealing with extreme fear or anxiety, we may prescribe a short anti-anxiety drug to get your pet here.
We hope the combination of these strategies, along with training in all our staff about how to make your pet’s visit a happy one, will ensure that never will a pet not receive the treatment they need, because it was too stressful to come to the vets.