by Autumn Myers, CVT
The Fear Free Initiative started with Dr. Marty Becker and his unending and steadfast love of animals and the human-animal bond. Since beginning the initiative, over 13,000 individuals have become certified Fear Free professionals, including every single member of our staff. The focus of the Fear Free initiative is not only to strengthen the human-animal bond but also to look after the pet’s physical and emotional well-being. At Shiloh Veterinary Hospital we want to help your pet have the best visit with as little stress as possible. We don’t want to just take care of your pet physically but emotionally as well.
We at SVH have taken many steps to help our patients on an emotional level. You may have noticed recently that we changed our uniform colors to grey for the staff. The doctors are no longer wearing white coats either. Research has shown that dogs and cats do not see the color white like we do, and it causes FAS.
Right now, you are wondering, what is FAS?! The acronym stands for Fear, Anxiety, and Stress. Our daily tasks revolve around decreasing FAS for the patients. Another change you may have seen is our new music speakers in the rooms. Again, research shows that dogs and cats respond positively to quiet instrumental music.
For cats, we offer Feliway-sprayed towels to cover cat carriers while you wait for your appointment. Ideally, we try to get our feline patients into rooms as quickly as possible, but that doesn’t always happen. Feliway is a synthetic feline facial pheromone to help calm cats. Please ask us more about Feliway! We would love to tell you all the great things about it.
For our canine friends, we offer Adaptil sprayed bandanas. Like the Feliway, Adaptil contains an appeasing pheromone. The difference is that Adaptil contains a synthetic dog-appeasing pheromone that is derived from the mammary glands. Again, if you have questions about Adaptil, please give us a call!
You may see that the veterinarians and veterinary technicians are performing more and more procedures with your pet in the exam room. This is so we do not have to move your pet to a noisy treatment area and away from you which can increase and cause fear, anxiety, and stress. In addition to these changes you may physically see around both hospitals, all of the employees have read and passed 8 internet modules dedicated solely to being Fear Free. This taught us about how to recognize FAS in both the dog and cat as well as how we can minimize it. Now, this is a fairly brief summary of the many things we learned, but if I went into great detail this blog entry would be much longer!
In my experience as a technician, I’ve witnessed countless times that acting with more compassion and some gentle control has allowed me to do my job better. Some examples of success stories include a canine patient who just did not appreciate having her nails trimmed. In the past, she would have to be held on her side to get them trimmed, which causes a lot of fear. Her first Fear Free experience consisted of spray cheese that she could constantly lick at while another person petted her and held the leash. I trimmed the nails while allowing her to keep her feet on the floor. She had a positive experience which doesn’t take away the fear of the nail trim, but is a good start to help decrease fear at future appointments.
Other times I’ve witnessed our Fear Free methods succeed are when we can complete a full exam on a pet with minimal restraint and some spray cheese when in the past we have had to muzzle the patient to do anything. By decreasing this pet’s fear, anxiety, and stress we can accomplish much more. Moreover, the pet is allowing us to do our exam or a blood draw, not being forced into it. Then not only does that make it a great experience that one time, but hopefully in any future visits that same method of a little bit of spray cheese will help again.
A final example would be my most proud moment implementing Fear Free tactics. We had an extremely fearful dog come in for her annual wellness exam. She normally can only get a very basic exam done because she is that terrified of being touched. Recently Dr. Berlin and I had the pleasure of working with this wonderful girl. I fed her many small treats to get her to warm up to me which she did quickly. Luckily for us she was very food-motivated, which means she will tolerate us petting her when she normally wouldn’t in this situation. We both worked with her along with her mom to complete the exam. No restraint was used. We did have to use a basket muzzle to draw some blood from this girl because touching her legs proved to be too much touching. To get her used to the muzzle we put delicious treats in the bottom and allowed her to just reach in and grab them out at first, leading up to putting the muzzle on her. She did great for her blood draw and was back to eating treats out of the muzzle on the floor afterwards. This is a huge success! She had not had a blood parasite screen in years, and we did end up finding out she had a previously undetected disease. If we had not done the bloodwork we would never have known. The owner was also interested in furthering her pet’s training with muzzles so the dog accepts the muzzle without fear, anxiety, or stress.
Once a dog or cat has a traumatic experience at the veterinary hospital, this physically changes their brain. Think about yourself for a minute. Was there a traumatic experience you’ve had at a doctor’s office or anywhere else? This will change your brain to automatically go back to that experience every time you think about this specific place or situation. Luckily for humans, we have reasoning skills and psychiatrists. Dogs and cats do not have this option. So we, the staff and veterinarians, must be those people that help change their reaction from fear, anxiety, stress, to one of “okay, if I let this weird lady touch me, the other lady gives me treats.” Unfortunately, not every patient will respond to food and there are other methods we must try so we do not cause FAS in those patients.
So, when you hear the vet tech or veterinarian come back to you and say we couldn’t get your pet’s full nail trim or another procedure done that day, it’s not because we don’t enjoy doing our job. We are doing our best to provide a pleasurable and Fear Free experience for your pet. You may hear more often that the veterinarian is recommending an anti-anxiety drug to reduce FAS in your pet. Again, this is to help us do our job without causing your pet to have a traumatic, debilitating life-changing experience.
The best part of my job is not only helping treat your precious fur babies and nurse them back to health, but to accomplish this without causing a patient FAS. At SVH we want the best for your furry family member because we recognize they are not just your pet, but a member of your family and ours.