Can You Make Your Next Vet Visit Fear Free?

Posted on: 29 February 2016

Just like some humans get anxious about visiting the doctor or nervous about making a dentist appointment, some animals get fearful about taking an annual trip to the vet hospital. And some of those pets get so overwhelmed that they panic and behave wildly -- some mild-mannered pups lunging in fear, some cool kitties shaking and cowering. 

According to the 2014 Bayer Veterinary Healthcare Usage Study, 37 percent of dog owners and 58 percent of cat owners say their pets hate going to the vet. This makes their owners stressed, too. For pets like these, who get so out of line that they can't even be properly examined, some veterinarians are introducing "fear free" offices.

The "fear free" movement seeks to get rid of the traditional trappings of a medical environment that may cause anxiety in sensitive animals. Some of the techniques used include:

No More Waiting Rooms

Just being in a waiting room with its unfamiliar sounds and smells -- as well as other animals and strange people -- can be enough to send some pets in a tizzy. Instead of waiting in a common area, fear free offices send their patients directly into exam rooms.

Choose the Right Colors

Animals see colors differently from humans, and one thing that can be excessively bright: White. In fear free clinics, the walls are painted with pastel tones and techs as well as doctors wear colored coats, which show up as shades of gray to cats and dogs, to avoid startling a pet with stark white.

Light it Right

Along the same lines, bright lights are stressful for pets. Fear free exam rooms use reduced lighting, and some eliminate overhead lighting all together, in favor of task lights that can be turned on as needed during an exam. The lack of fluorescent lighting is key, too, as the noise that the ballasts can make is loud to a sensitive pet.

Secure the Surfaces

Being unable to get traction on a slippery floor or exam table is hard for animals who like to have secure footing. Yoga mats make a soft, grippy, cleanable surface for pets to stand on. Sometimes towels work as well.

Positive Reinforcement Through Treats

The way to a nervous pet's heart may be through the stomach. Fear free vet hospitals and clinics keep a varied supply of treats on hand to tempt even the most frightened animal. Regular patients may even have their treat preferences noted on their charts so staff is sure to have stocked up some favorite tidbits, from cheese to hot dogs to chewy commercial treats.

Use Physical Affection for Calming

Petting, especially when it comes to cats, may be a great technique to relieve stress. One study in the journal Preventative Veterinary Medicine found that cats who were not petted during their first 10 days in an animal shelter were 2.4 times more likely to develop a urinary tract infection. Other infections and excessive shedding, also signs of stress, were reduced as well. Fear free vet clinics take this research into account; you may find that vet technicians spend a few minutes just petting and soothing your pet before starting an exam.

Keep the Tunes On

The right music can make a difference to set the right tone and make it harder to hear other animals in adjacent exam rooms. Classical music tends to be the best accepted for its calming effects.

If your pet is struggling during a vet exam, or you feel stressed just thinking about making an appointment, try asking a vet, like the ones at Grove Center Veterinary Hospital, about fear free techniques to make your dog or cat feel more comfortable.