Fear-Free Pet Visits!

One of the more recent emphases being advocated by “America’s Veterinarian”, Dr. Marty Becker, and the veterinary profession, is the “fear free” experience of taking your pet to the veterinarian.

Hippocrates said it this way: “Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always.”

Our veterinary oath obligates us to, “the prevention and relief of animal suffering.”

Many people are hesitant to bring their pets to the veterinary clinic because of the perceived stressful experience for them and their pet.

Animal Behaviorist, Dr. Karen Overall, states that fear is the most damaging thing a social species can experience. So what is the solution – to create fear free visits that happen inside a fear-free practice.

A Fear-Free Practice actually starts at home with fear-free pets. Well-behaved animals at home are, of course, much more likely to behave well when their owners bring them to the veterinary clinic. Training pets are like raising children, the more time we spend early on teaching and rewarding them for acceptable behavior, the more this will promote the peace and harmony of the human-animal bond.

Here are six ways Karen Overall says people can help their pets live in peace and harmony:

  1. Teach people how to pet their dogs and cats. Make it a rule to only give their pets attention when they are calm, and use gentle, soft strokes to pet. For dogs, focus on petting the chest, side of the neck, or the side of the body – areas the pet relaxes into.
  2. Encourage pet owners to commit to consistent training and rewards (treats, praise, play, petting). Never allow one family member to “rough play” with the dog & allow mouthing, but not allow this with other household members. This is very confusing to the dog as to what behavior is acceptable.
  3. Desensitize your pet to the transportation crate by having it out all the time at home and putting tasty treats or toys in the crate so your pet feels very comfortable in it.
  4. Number four is about timing and consistency. The reward structure should be clearly defined and appropriately reinforced at all times. Pet owners need to understand that when teaching a new behavior we teach best best by rewarding at every instance of appropriate behavior and that our pets will retain what they have learned best by rewarding them intermittently.
  5. Human and pet expectations. Make sure you are rewarding the pet with what is intrinsically rewarding to them, not what you think they should like. Think of food as currency. You have to understand exactly what currency will make a pet’s eyes light up. (Freeze dried liver, turkey hotdog, deli turkey, salmon, Gerber’s Graduate Meat Stick, Honey Nut Cheerios, Peanut Butter Captain Crunch. Cats thrive on tuna, easy cheese or canned cheese, Feline Greenies, and baby food.
  6. Establish “leadership” vs dominance with your dog. Leadership helps the human family gain influence over their dog simply by controlling all resources to use as motivators to reward dogs for appropriate behavior

Procedures that we are using in our veterinary clinic to help pets to have a more pleasant experience:

  • We are using pheromones (chemical substances that are produced and secreted by animals that influences their behavior and gives them a sense of well-being) in the exam & treatment rooms.
  • Putting the treat into treatment.
  • We recommend that owners do not feed their pets before coming to the clinic so their pets will be hungry and be much more likely to respond to treats which will distract them. We want them to think of their visit like a trip to the Dairy Queen with lots of good things to eat and can’t wait to come back.
  • If necessary, pet sedation protocols are started before the pet owner leaves home to help the pet to be relaxed and happy.

The bottom line: the more calm and relaxed the pet when coming to the veterinary clinic, the more enjoyable and productive experience for all concerned.

By: Dr. Cronin
Dwight Veterinary Clinic