Does fear free have a place in the vet world?
So, I had a baby 10 months ago, and this one happens to have two legs. Due to the wear and tear of the veterinary industry, I started my maternity leave a little earlier than expected. While I welcomed sitting on the couch with my feet up, waiting for baby to make his presence known, I was slightly bored. As a boredom buster, I read a lot about Fear Free in the NAVTA journal and became intrigued. Fear Free is an advocacy group that provides online and in person education to both veterinary professionals and pet owners. Their goal is to furnish individuals with alternative ways of treating and handling four-legged patients that limits their fear, anxiety, and stress.
If you read my blog about my ear being lunch for Fido (read more here), then you understand why I found the theory of Fear Free so interesting. Listen: when you work at a busy clinic, (appointments every 15 minutes, emergencies, lab work, surgeries, all being done simultaneously) it’s hard to incorporate Fear Free. That being said I DO believe it has a place in veterinary medicine. One of the many things Fear Free preaches that made sense to me was that the less fear an animal has the better results you will have. We are here to be the voice for these fur babies and to keep them comfortable and safe. Take, for example, nail trims. Does the patient need a nail trim by any means necessary? Mostly likely not. If for some reason it is medically necessary, the DVM can prescribe something for the pet to take prior to the visit that will keep them calmer. Hopefully this can limit the amount of fear, anxiety, and stress for the pet. This can help set the tone for future nail trims, allowing them to be easier for both pet and veterinary professionals.
Fear Free also highlights the important of stress free exams by using food, distraction, and pheromones to make the pet more comfortable. It does not expect the veterinary professional to do this alone and encourages getting the owner involved. There are many ways an owner can work on reducing fear, anxiety, and stress at home prior to even visiting the clinic. For instance with cats and their fear the dreaded carrier comes out only when it’s time to pay the vet a visit. Instead, the owner could keep the carrier out at all times. This way, the cat doesn’t associate the carrier with the vet, but instead associates it with their home that they’re comfortable in.
Another stressful object for many pets is the car. Picture it for yourself: your standing stationary (well trying to), yet everything around you is moving. On top of that, the only time you ever go in the car is to go to a place where they poke and prod you. You would hate the car too. So a few steps we could take to eliminate stress:
1.) Eliminate nausea in pets prior to the car ride by giving it antiemetics, such as Cerenia
2.) Make the car a happy place! Start by taking the pet on shorter trips that are pleasant. A daily trip around the block followed by a fun stimulus can help the pet become friends with the car instead of enemies.
In order for Fear Free to have a set place in this industry, everyone has to be on board. Your entire practice has to adopt this approach or else it won’t work. In my opinion, Fear Free is empathetic, and although it is time consuming, it is an effective way to get a favorable result.