Fear Free: Freedom for Cats
Have you ever felt you are about to die? I mean that literally, like you’ve been held up at gun point or held out a window by your suspenders 30 stories up? That’s how many cats feel when the carrier comes out. Suddenly and inexplicably the cats trusted friend becomes the predator. After chasing the cat around the house and dragging kitty out from under furniture, stuffing the struggling cat into the carrier is horrifying. But it gets much worse, as the cat is transported to a place which wreaks for fear pheromones, loud and scary sounds and smells. By now sheer terror isn’t enough to describe how the cat feels.
No wonder innate flight or fight survival instinct kicks in for so many; they feel like they’re fighting for their lives. Other cats literally freeze with fright – and sometimes owners and even veterinary staff don’t recognize how terrified they really are.
A few years back my old friend Dr. Marty Becker told me about his idea to remove that fear and sheer terror from veterinary visits; it’s an initiative he was then about to launch, called Fear Free.
And the initiative has caught on faster than cats run for tuna. Veterinary professionals can be certified as they have better learned how to mitigate fear, anxiety and stress. Veterinary teaching hospitals, dog trainers, groomers and soon shelters professionals can all be certified as Fear Free. The U.S. military working dog program will be Fear Free. And the list goes on.
Over a third (38 percent) of cat owners call vet visits stressful, and 58 percent suggest their cat get stressed at the vet office. These numbers are changing, and millennials are driving that change. Emotional health of pets matters more than ever.
It was Becker’s idea to consider a scoring for the emotional health of every pet, every veterinary visit. Indeed, as it is with people, emotional health and physical health are intertwined. But moreover, calm or contended cats benefit by a more thorough exam. Besides using tools to prevent that sheer terror is simply the right thing to do.
A significant percent of pet owners have stopped going to the veterinarian all together – for various reasons, from costs to not understanding the importance of checkups, but also because of the expectation of emotional discomfort. And if your cat is unhappy at the vet office, it’s a good bet caretakers are as well.
Cats who are currently fearful of vet visits – arguably a vast significant majority of cats – simply aren’t going to live as long as cats who receive regular checkups. Veterinarians can’t diagnose pets they don’t see. And, as in people, there’s lots of data to demonstrate earlier diagnosis equates with improved prognosis.
From the launch of Fear Free, The Winn Feline Foundation was an unconditional and enthusiastic supporter.
The Winn Feline Foundation is the preeminent funder of cat health studies on the planet. How can we not be supportive of an initiative which so clearly benefits and potentially extends cats lives?
Learn more at www.fearfreehappyhomes.com
Steve Dale, a certified animal behavior consultant, is a longtime Winn Feline Foundation Board member, and chief correspondent for Fear Free Happy Homes. Steve created the Winn Feline Foundation Ricky Fund to support studies for feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. He’s a radio show host, and an author or contributor to many books, including The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management (edited by Susan Little, DVM, DABVP), and is a founder of the CATylist Council. Dale’s website: www.stevedale.tv.