We love to brag to our clients and friends how our entire staff (doctors, reception, techs and assistants) are all “Fear Free Certified.” We do this because we feel it’s important. Not just to add something to our resume, but to actually practice techniques which help pets and pet owners feels more at ease when they come to our clinic. However, it occurred to me that most folks probably don’t know what this.
I remember my first job as a vet tech when I was taught how to scruff the meanest cat so that the doctor could give it vaccines. The cat had a narrow window, too narrow for an exam or small talk, just vaccines and send it home. I stunk at restraint, but would never let the doctor get hurt. Needless to say, the cat lost it in the middle of the first vaccine and shredded my hand so bad that the cats nails were stuck under my skin. It was a sad day for me, but thinking back, every one lost in that scenario: The doctor wasn’t able to do an exam, so we likely missed things; the pet owner paid for an incomplete exam; the cat’s fears were reaffirmed by my over- aggressive restraint; and I bled all over the exam room. That’s where Fear Free comes in. Our cat-only exam room doesn’t smell like dog slobber and anal glands. It’s sanitized and sprayed with facial pheromones like Feliway which have been studied to have a calming effect on cats. We also have hiding spaces and lots of treats available, so cats feel safe. In those feral cats, we send owners home with some calming meds to sneak in the cat’s food before the visit and they come in purring like a kitten. For the doggos, we start them off young, educating new puppy owners on the importance of rewards and positive reinforcement when manipulating a puppy’s mouth and feet which are often very sensitive to dogs.
Fear Free teaches our staff the art of positive reinforcement using techniques that help redirect pets to feel more comfortable when they visit. Instead of remembering being bent into a pretzel from a headlock, they remember being fed peanut butter when we trimmed nails and listened to their heart. Instead of muzzles and contraptions, we send mom and dad with some mild sedatives for their pet, to take the edge off and make the experience more soothing (like having a cocktail at the bar, for you anxious flyers). We never try to push. When we force things or use old fashioned “BRUTicaine” we give the pet a reason to be scared – and again, no one wins!
Learn more about Fear Free pet ownership here and how you can become certified yourself!
– Dr. Tom