Less Stress at the Vet: Joining the Fear Free Movement

Our newest addition to the practice, Dr. Joanne Loeffler, has a passion for understanding pets’ likes, dislikes, fears, and motivations.  As a Fear Free Certified Professional she aims to help pets and their owners make the most of Veterinary visits and break the cycle of fear and anxiety related to the vet hospital.  She was kind enough to sit down and teach us more about what Fear Free means and how it can benefit you and your pet.

What influenced you to pursue learning more about animal behavior and psychology?

I first got really interested in the concept of Fear Free when I was in vet school.  During my exotics rotation, we went to one of the local zoos and got behind-the-scenes tours.  For me, the best part of the tour was seeing the tigers!  The trainers and vets at the zoo showed us how the tigers are trained to present each part of their body for an exam.  They amazingly trained them to accept blood draws calmly by presenting certain parts of their body.  My mind was blown! If a tiger can be trained for an exam and blood draw with no resistance; why is it that my canine and much smaller feline patients are barely able to cope with being in the building, let alone having procedures done to them??  There must be a better way, and there is!!!!  It’s called Fear Free.

What makes a Fear Free vet visit different?

The general way most visits were taught in school is that pets should deal with whatever procedures we need to do without complaint.  If they do try to flee, fidget, fight, bite, etc then they may be labeled “bad” or “dominant”.  The truth is, they aren’t any of those things, they just don’t know what we want from them!

dog-vet stress

Think of it this way.  You are nervous to go to the dentist (who isn’t right?). You go in and sit in the chair waiting for your procedure.  The dentist comes in with an assistant who tries to pry open your mouth, so he can inject the Novocaine.  You get worried and start to fight, so instead of them stopping they bring in more people to sit on top of you just so you can get the injection.  Now the injection itself isn’t all that scary.  Sure, it’s not enjoyable, but it’s something you could easily tolerate if someone took the time to explain to you what was about to happen.  And since they didn’t, you can bet that the next time you have a toothache you are going to delay treatment as long as possible because you’d do anything to not go back to that scary place.  Well, that’s how so many pets and their owners view the vet’s office!

So, what are we trying to do differently now?  Here’s the first thing:  We are now trying to assess the needs vs wants of a patient for that day.  They NEED to have their blood taken because they have been sick for the past two days, you WANT us to trim their nails cause you figure they are already stressed out, let’s just do it all in one day.  We want to help teach your pets that they have control over what happens to them.  And that is a powerful tool!

If we can’t complete a full exam in one day, doesn’t that mean more scary trips to the vet?

It does take more time if I send you away today without getting everything done in the visit. I realize I am asking you to come back multiple times to achieve the one goal.  It takes time for the staff to train your dog to accept things happening to them, and we want to respect your pet when they have had enough.

Especially initially as we are changing how patient visits in the clinic are managed we may be telling people they have to come back instead of us ‘powering through it’ for the benefit of their pet. Change takes time and we expect to receive pushback from clients.  But here’s the thing, when each one of us graduated from vet school we took an oath.  Part of which states ‘I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering.’ And the Fear Free movement embraces exactly that.

You as the pet owner need to expect more in the way of behavioral health and well-being during your pet’s exam and we as Fear Free Certified Professionals can help you get there! Our hope is that your pet wants to come to see us for his next visit!

smile car dog

How can I help my pet that is petrified by the vet?

If you have a dog or cat that suffers from anxiety at the vet please reach out to our office or find a fear free certified vet in your area.  I’d be happy to meet with you and set up a plan to help your pet overcome their anxiety and learn that we aren’t such a scary place after all!

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