What Is Fear Free?
Fear Free® is a rigorous online training program that educates veterinary care givers and pet owners on how to provide care for dogs and cats in a fear free, low anxiety setting and manner. It is available to veterinary staff, pet professionals (kennels, groomers, trainers), shelters, and pet owners.
According to their website, Fear Free’s mission is to “prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety, and stress in pets by inspiring and educating the people who care for them.” Veterinary professionals who are“Fear Free Certified Professionals” have completed the training, and are required to earn additional continuing education credits each year in order to maintain their certifications.
At the AAHA conference, Dr. John Talmadge discussed that “Fear Free is all about creating an environment that helps reduce the feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress in our patients by promoting a considerate approach and gentle control techniques in a calming environment; which results in an experience that is much more rewarding and safe for our patients, our clients, and the entire veterinary health care team.”
What Does Fear Free Look Like at the Vet?
Having veterinary team members who are Fear Free Certified is hugely beneficial. The course teaches us a great deal on putting the emotional needs of the pet first through our actions and setups. This can look like:
- Using non-slip surfaces in rooms and treatment areas
- Calming pheromones & aromatherapy
- Playing soothing music in waiting rooms
- Providing hiding areas for cats, as well as separate lobby areas to keep dogs and cats apart, and to keep nervous dogs away from happy dogs.
- Quiet rooms & distracting toys/treats for nervous dogs
- Quiet rooms with cat trees and windows for cats
- Multiple entry points into the office
- Enzymatic cleaning protocols between pets in exam rooms.
By using this approach with our patients, we apply a feel-good sensory experience for your pets – focusing on pleasant sights, sounds, smells, tastes and gentle touch.
It’s also about improving pet owner and veterinary team communication about potential triggers for your pet, so the medical team can anticipate an anxious pet, and/or provide medications to relieve stress and anxiety ahead of a visit.
Fear in our patients leads to elevated heart rates, discomfort, hiding behaviors and fear-based aggression. This can lead to reduced veterinary care, because the experience is unpleasant for both the pet and the owners. Fear Free Veterinary Professionals incorporate a “considerate approach” to every interaction between the veterinary team and the patient.
How Fear Free Affects Your Pets
In urgent care and veterinary emergency medicine settings, we understand that when your pet is in pain, they may react fearfully during their examination. This can result in the masking, or even worsening of their symptoms. Fear, stress, and/or anxiety (FAS) can lead to elevated adrenaline or cortisol levels in pets. After long-term exposure, this can cause immunosuppression, delayed wound healing, ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, muscle wasting, and the progression of behavior disorders.
Fear Free Certified veterinary 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.
- Help owners deliver calm pets to our hospital.
- Enhance the quality of medicine in our practice.
- Increase compliance at home with medications and life-long veterinary care for your pet.
- Educate pet owners on how to carry a cat carrier, and how to recognize signs of fear, stress and anxiety in their own pets and other people’s pets.
- Improve safety for the veterinary team.
By asking the right questions of the owner and incorporating the FAS scale for dogs and cats, we can treat our patients better and give them a much happier and less stressful experience at veterinary urgent care.
The Fear Free website has a free content library, full of useful articles for pet owners. There is also a certification course that may be useful for owners with pets who are anxious and fearful in life and at the vet.
By placing an equal importance on the emotional well-being and medical well-being of our patients both in and out of our hospitals, we’re helping change the stigma around fear at the vet, and helping our beloved furry family members live happy, fear free lives.