What is a “Fear Free” veterinary practice?
Fear Free is a concept created by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker that works to prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety and stress in pets during their veterinary visits. The intention is to educate veterinarians and animal-health-care professionals to put in place standardized operating procedures that will make pets feel more relaxed and comfortable. This requires good communication between owners and the veterinary team.
How does a veterinary practice get a Fear Free certification?
To earn the designation of a Fear Free Certified Practice, the veterinary hospital needs to implement the practice certification standards, complete an online self-assessment, and have a successful visit with a Fear Free certification consultant. The online assessment includes standards that cover how restraint, anesthetic procedures, surgeries and staff interactions with pets are performed. Points are assigned to the categories. If a practice fails to meet a mandatory standard or minimum of points, practice certification will not be granted.
Veterinarians can be individually Fear Free certified. The certification programs are seen as the foundation for Fear Free and designed to provide veterinarians with the knowledge and tools required to start implementing Fear Free in their workplace.
Fear Free professionals are trained to reduce or remove anxiety triggers that can cause pets to become fearful at home, in transport and at the veterinary hospital. They help owners learn how to bring calm pets to the veterinarian, which improves safety for the veterinary team.
What can I expect if I bring my dog to a Fear Free veterinary practice?
Before you actually bring your dog to the practice, the Fear Free veterinary staff will discuss with you any concerns you may have about the visit and what particular stressors upset your dog. Stressors can be any experience, environment, object or living creature that disrupts your dog’s normal state of mind. Examples of stressors include noise, odor, pain, other animals and unfamiliar people.
The first place to reduce stress is the actual trip to the veterinarian. Small and medium dogs should be acclimated to their carriers being safe havens at home. The carrier should be left out in an area of the home where the dog likes to be. Comfortable bedding can be placed inside to increase the appeal. The bedding can be sprayed with dog pheromones, which are scents designed to be calming, and toys and treats can be included.
Medium and large dogs should be acclimated to their restraint devices, including collars, leashes, or body or head harnesses, at home. A bandana that has been treated with pheromone spray can be placed around the dog’s neck. Fear Free veterinarians recommend securing the carrier or pet in the back seat of the car. The drive should be low stress, avoiding hard stops or starts and with calm music or silence.
On arriving at the veterinary hospital, depending on the size and set-up of the facility, it may be best to remain with your dog in your car until they are ready to see you. If you are going to wait in the waiting room, keep your dog on a leash and close to you. When your dog finds the waiting room to be a stressful environment, ask to be put into an exam room to wait for the veterinary team.
In order to encourage a positive experience at the veterinary hospital, rewards such as toys, treats, petting or brushing can be used during the exam. It is also important for both the owner and the veterinary team to be calm and speak in quiet voices. Members of the veterinary team should approach the dog in a slow manner as many dogs are sensitive to loud noises and quick movements.
If additional restraint is needed for a procedure such as taking a blood sample or X-rays, the veterinary team may use things like a towel wrap, muzzle or Elizabethan collar to ensure the dog is adequately restrained and comfortable during the process. A mild sedative may be given if the restraint itself is causing the dog to be anxious.
Overall, the goal is to make the veterinary visit as stress-free as possible for the dog as well as everyone involved. In some cases, it may be beneficial for the veterinarian to provide a mild sedative to be given at home by the owner before the trip to the animal hospital. Nowadays, there are many options for pre-visit medications based on the health status of the dog.
What happens if my dog has to be admitted or stay overnight at the veterinary hospital?
If it is medically necessary for your dog to be hospitalized, the Fear Free team has guidelines in place to minimize stress as much as possible during the hospital stay. Anxiety can delay healing and recovery, or can even result in the development of additional medical problems. Fear Free hospitals are careful to minimize loud noises in the hospital, such as beeps, talking and barking.
The Fear Free teams also work to minimize odors, since dogs have a keen sense of smell. This is done by cleaning surfaces and equipment between patients, changing scrubs if needed, not wearing any perfume or fragrance, and placing calming pheromone diffusers around the hospital. You may also hear or see music or white-noise machines, as they help decrease the volume of any noise that may occur.
In the Fear Free hospital, the lights are kept low, and the dogs are given soft bedding and places to hide as well as a privacy curtain. When moving a dog around the hospital for a walk outside, physical exam or medical procedure, it is always done slowly and calmly. Interactions with other patients are avoided, doorways are held open, and non-slick mats are used if needed.
Mild sedatives or anti-anxiety medications can be given in the hospital to a stressed patient if they are not contra-indicated based on the medical issues. The Fear Free concept extends through the entire hospital.
Fear Free is a new approach in veterinary medicine. The goal is to recognize and reduce fear, anxiety and stress associated with visits to the veterinarian. Achieving this requires active communication between the owner and the veterinary staff. The reward is a better experience for all parties involved.
What pheromones are calming for dogs?
Dog-appeasing pheromones, or DAP, naturally help calm nervous dogs. Pheromones are chemicals that are released from the body to invoke a behavioral or social response. DAP is secreted by a mother dog when she is nursing her puppies. The purpose of DAP is to calm puppy anxiety, which helps make feeding time less stressful and frantic.
Scientists have been able to isolate DAP and create a synthetic version that can be used by dog owners. DAP products help reduce anxiety symptoms. The familiar maternal pheromone works well to ease puppies into their new homes. It has been shown to help with housebreaking training and reduce crying at night. For adult dogs, DAP can ease separation anxiety, sound aversions and stress related to travel. DAP has also been shown to be effective helping aggressive dogs feel less anxious and shelter dogs feel less stressed.
DAP products are available in several forms. Sentry’s Calming Collar provides a continual release of the calming pheromones when worn. The Adaptil diffuser can be plugged into a wall socket and gives 30-day coverage for a room up to 500 square feet. ThunderEase is a portable DAP spray that is great for car travel, trips to the veterinarian and new experiences your dog may go through. DAP also works well in combination with other therapies such as Thundershirts.