Fear Free

What is Fear Free?

What is Fear Free?

During a visit to Cascade Park Animal Hospital, you may notice our staff talking to you about Fear Free techniques. But what exactly does this mean? Fear Free is a science-based training and certification program developed by veterinary behaviorists to alleviate fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS) in our pets during their visits to the veterinarian. Fear Free certification is expected of all our employees, and collectively we are in the process of having the entire facility certified as a Fear Free Practice.

Many people  have had experiences with their pets at veterinary clinics where their pets display levels of extreme stress: elimination of urine and feces, elimination of anal gland contents, hissing and swatting, screaming or other fearful vocalizing, lunging and/or attempting to bite. At Cascade Park Animal Hospital, we consider untreated high FAS to be as intolerable as untreated severe pain. We are working to ensure that none of our patients ever have terrifying visits at the vet.

Fear_Anxiety_Stress_Spectrum of Dogs  Fear_Anxiety_Stress_Spectrum of Cats

Fear Free considers our pets’ perspectives of the veterinary clinic and works to reduce stressful triggers. Major Fear Free strategies  include:

  • Minimizing visual and olfactory cues that trigger stress
    • Feline patients are provided with a separate waiting area and exam room
    • Kennels in the boarding facility and treatment rooms are oriented so pets are not forced to stare at each other
    • Hydrogen peroxide-based cleaners are used whenever possible to avoid strong-smelling chemical disinfectants
    • Check out occurs in exam rooms to avoid potentially stressful and unwanted visitation from other pets while checking out
  • Utilizing gentle and considerate approach and handling techniques
    • Pets are not held down or restrained roughly
    • Techniques such as towel wrapping are used to keep pets secure and safe
  • Providing positive stimuli during visits
    • Owners are encouraged to stay with their pets throughout the visit whenever possible
    • A variety of palatable treats are offered throughout the visit
    • Praise and gentle touch are offered to pets who enjoy them
  • Using synthetic facial pheromones (Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats) to provide an invisible blanket of comfort for all our patients
    • Diffusers used throughout the facility
    • Sprayed on patient bedding, and on staff clothing

If our patients show persistent signs of high FAS despite the use of pheromones and positive techniques, anti-anxiety medications are often employed. These medications are typically short-acting and are intended to reduce the level of fear in our patients while they are in the clinic, so they can learn that we are there to treat them gently and respectfully.  Once they learn that the veterinary clinic is not a scary place, they may be able to visit without medication in the future.

Sometimes, employing a Fear Free approach requires that procedures that can be very difficult for pets–such as nail trims—be completed in more than one visit. We understand that this may not be convenient, but creating positive experiences and associations at the veterinary clinic are crucial to overcoming such pets’ fear-based responses and will allow them to develop long-term, positive relationships with their veterinary team.

We have been using Fear Free techniques for the past year. We have seen the difference it has made in our patients’ experiences, and we embrace it wholeheartedly. We hope you will too!

Anna Reading DVM, cVMA

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