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Fear Free Veterinary Visits


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Have you ever felt you are about to die?  I mean that literally, like you’ve been held up at gun point.

I’ve suggested for years that too many of our pets at the vet office are feeling like they are being held up at gun point – that they are about to be killed.

Pet expert Steve Dale on Fear Free veterinary visitsNo wonder, the flight or fight response may kick in for many. Other animals just freeze – and sometimes owners and even veterinary staff don’t recognize how terrified they really are.

It’s often pretty obvious, like when a cat is screaming bloody murder or the dog is so frightened it urinates in the exam room; we get embarrassed.Pet expert Steve Dale on Fear Free veterinary visits

Moreover, when our pet gets upset, we get upset. And when we feel anxious, our pets know it – so they become even more alarmed. So, the anxiety level expands.

Have you ever walked into room when everyone is upset about something, anything? There’s a vibe, an aura, whatever you want to call it – you feel it. So, similarly the veterinary team picks up on all this stress.

It’s a sloppy snowball growing larger by the second.

All this isn’t in the best interest of anyone – most especially our pets.

Dr. Marty Becker and client

Dr. Marty Becker and client

So a few years back when my friend Dr. Marty Becker told me about his idea to remove the fear from vet visits, called Fear Free; I was all about it.

I knew the data.

Nearly a third of (28 percent) of dog owners say going to the veterinarian is stressful, and 38 percent suggest their dog feels stressed out. Over a third (38 percent) of cat owners call vet visits stressful, and 58 percent suggest their cat get stressed at the vet office.

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 because of the expectation of discomfort.

No veterinarian I have ever met has made the significant sacrifices and investment of dollars and time for schooling to make pets feel terrified.  Of course, doctors want to help not hurt.

Our pets don't mind seeing Dr. Marks

Our pets don’t mind seeing Dr. Marks at Blum Animal Hospital

There are lots of animals – millions of them – who actually enjoy the veterinary visit. And I suggest they get a better exam than a fractious cat or an aggressive dog as a result. There’s no data to prove this, but I suggest those animals who tolerate or even enjoy a veterinary visit might live a longer life.

Well certainly, they live longer than pets who don’t see a veterinarian.

Just over 80 percent of cats see a veterinarian in their first year ownership – while that sounds impressive, that means millions of cats don’t receive any medical care even in that first year. Far more problematic, the majority of cats don’t see a veterinarian after that unless they become so ill that there is no other choice, or the cat gets hit by a car or another trauma occurs.

We know that dogs and cats benefit with preventive care. However, even the best veterinarians can’t diagnose clients they’re not seeing.

Fear Free promotes considerate approach and gentle control techniques used in calming environments. Utilization of Fear Free methods and protocols leads to reduction or removal of anxiety triggers, which creates an experience that is rewarding and safer for all involved, including pets, their owners, and veterinary health care teams.

All those words mean that pets don’t need to be terrified – it doesn’t need to be this way. We can adjust pets’ emotion barometer moving from frightened to fun.

Some cats would drive to the vet office, if they could - but not most

Some cats would drive to the vet office, if they could – but not most

Pet expert Steve Dale on Fear Free veterinary visitsIndividual veterinary professionals and veterinary practices are becoming certified as Fear Free all over America. The first in the Chicago area is Blum Animal Hospital. Over the course of the next months, Dr. Natalie Marks, co-owner at Blum, and myself will offer a series of stories about this initiative and how to use products and behavior modification to alter your pet’s feelings about a veterinary visit. She’ll also reveal what’s she’s doing behind-the-scenes in her practice that’s working (and maybe describe what’s not working), and speak to changes that have been implemented at Blum.

Pets share the same hard wiring for emotions in their brains as we do. While they may not comprehend what their emotions mean as we do – they do feel emotions about as we do. None of us would want to feel like we are about to die, and it’s unfair to put our pets through that. Fear Free will free pets of fear, anxiety and stress.

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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