Fear-Free: Make the Best Out of Your Visit!

As a veterinary profession there is growing concern about providing a visit that is as comfortable and as fearless as we can make it. Although the physical aspects of care will always be at the forefront, the emotional well-being of animals is now recognized as an important contributor to good health. Reducing pet stress, anxiety, and fear associated with visits to the veterinary clinic has spurred the embracing of the Fear Free Initiative by the veterinary profession. The foundation of the initiative is the realization that fear leads to permanent changes in the brain, specifically the region of the amygdala. This means that a puppy or kitten’s first experiences with a veterinarian stays with it for life.

Therefore, while examinations require contact that may not be entirely pleasant, there is much that can be done to reduce the risk of a fear response. By employing techniques that reduce stress, the cortex can override the amygdala, which can lead even older animals that are fearful from previous experiences, to learn that the veterinary clinic is a good place.

What is Fear? It is not only a response to stimuli, but depends on the animal’s response to that stimuli, which is different for each pet. As there is inborn anxiety disorders in people so too with pets and the unknown can generate numerous responses such as fear aggression, hiding behavior, shivering/shaking, etc.

What Does Manzini Do to Try to Reduce the Stress Response and Fear:

For Cats

1) Feline pheromones (Feliway Classic) – help to reassure pets (in the rooms as a diffuser or sprayed on blankets)

2) A cat only exam room – this tends to help cats from cats only households; cats only entrance and seating area

3) Non slip, soft surface when placed on the exam table. Sometimes blankets to hide in.

4) Exam in kennel if owner has a kennel with removable lid

5) Try to get cat into the exam room for a bit before the veterinarian enters – to check out the exam room.

6) Rooms and Clinic Painted with Fear Free muted colours

7) No white coats – cats have been shown to not like white

8) Room cleaning with the least smelly cleaners available and cleaning our stethoscopes after use on dogs or other cats

9) Prescribing medications prior to visits – ie. gabapentin, xylkene, alprazolam, etc.

10) Less is more handling approach as we can

11) Treats and or canned food when they will take it

For Dogs:

1) Treats, treats and more treats

2) Non slip mats when small dogs are placed on exam tables

3) Adaptil spray used on blankets/towels etc. (dog pheromone spray – calming pheromone produced by mother’s)

4) 2 rooms have either couches or soft seats so exam can be performed on these instead of on the exam table

5) Floor crawling for dogs that prefer a ground exam

6) Slow handling and trying to let dogs approach us first

7) Offering treats, canned food and toys as needed

8) Prescribing medications prior to visits i.e gabapentin, trazadone, alprazolam, acepromazine, etc.

What can you do to try to “Reduce” the stress response and fear with going for a vet visit:

For Cats:

1) Purchase a kennel right when they are kittens – make sure this kennel has an easily removable lid; leave the kennel open with toys and treats in it all the time. Remember this is their safe zone, so no one is to bother them while in the kennel this includes children, dogs or other cats (unless they are a bonded pair). This same procedure can be accomplished with older cats but will take more time.

2) Purchase feliway classic spray and spray in the kennel or on a blanket 15-20 minutes prior to departure

3) When the kittens are young get them used to travel in the car and bring them to the clinic for a weigh in and possibly treats if they like them. Older cats can learn as well, just make sure the experience is not negative. Slowly increase the experience with the kennel and car and eventually add on the clinic.

4) Get your cat/kitten used to being handled and examined. Open their mouths, play with their toes, take things that look like instruments such as a stethoscope and rub them on your cat.

5) If your cat is very distressed usually when travelling or coming into the clinic request zylkene supplement (start these 2-3 days before the visit) or a mild sedative such as gabapentin. Sometimes you can use these medications for 2-3 times and because they are more calm at their visits, you no longer need to use them.

6) Bring your cat/kitten in hungry so treats and canned food will help as a reward system.

For Dogs:

1) If you have a small dog and you are bringing them in a carrier; purchase a kennel where the lid can be removed. The same applies for the dogs as the cats. Leave the kennel out in your living space and allow them to come and go freely from the kennel. This is their safe zone!

2) Big or small: You can purchase Adaptil Spray to use in the kennel or on a bandanna. Spray 20 minutes prior to putting it on your dog. Can also purchase Adaptil collars as well.

3) Big or small: For some dogs thunder shirts also work, you can place an Adaptil sprayed handkerchief into the thunder shirt.

4) Get them used to being handled. Open their mouths, pick up their feet, hold and control their feet, play with their toe nails, get them to practice standing and sitting still while you rub your hands on them. Get them used to instruments such as stethoscopes and instruments with lights.

5) Bring them into the clinic for non-invasive visits.

6) Bring them hungry and ready for treats.

7) Try to stay calm yourself, as your animal feeds off your energy.

8) If your dog may bite, get them used to a muzzle at home (basket muzzles are the best as the dog can still pant and take treats. We like to put canned food on the end of the muzzle they can lick off to distract them.

9) Request prior to appointment for calming supplements or mild sedatives.

10) Have time, the exam will likely take longer then usual if your pet is nervous. Possibly expect us to take your animal away from you if needed; sometimes your pet is protecting you or feel more free to show aggression with their owners.

* With some very fearful dogs, they may show intense aggression and we may not be able to do a full exam. We may need to work up to the full exam slowly.



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