What does it mean to be a fear-free veterinary clinic? Some of you may have heard this term thrown about a bit as it is an innovative way of dealing with our pets. We all know that many pets become anxious at the vet, groomer, kennel, etc. and the general assumption has always been that there’s nothing we can do to make those experiences better for them. This is definitely not the case! Southfork Animal Hospital is taking steps towards being a fear-free veterinary practice. This means we are actively changing things from the types of cleansers we use (common cleansing agents stunt the sense of smell for dogs which can be a source of anxiety for them) to the type of background noise they hear (we play specifically-designed music in the exam rooms that has been shown to reduce anxiety) to the types of treats we have available for pets to munch on. This will be an evolving process, and you will definitely hear more about the changes we are instituting soon. Did you know that you can help your pet feel more comfortable here and the things you can do start BEFORE you even get your pet into the car to come to the clinic? Below are some ideas to help ease your pet’s anxiety before a vet visit:

  • If your pet is transported in a carrier:
    • Douse their carrier in Feliway (cats) or Adaptil (dogs). These are stress-reducing pheromones. It is important to do this BEFORE your pet gets into the kennel.
    • Allow access to the carrier at other times, so there isn’t an association where the carrier = a scary vet visit.
    • Place yummy, high-reward treats in the carrier before you head out. Use treats that aren’t normally given to the pet, so they are “extra special” for them.
    • Always carry the kennel from underneath to decrease swinging and jarring of the carrier during transport (i.e., don’t carry it by using the handle on top or fling the carrier over your shoulder by the strap).
    • Place the carrier in your vehicle in such a manner that it won’t move around during your travel to/from the clinic.
    • When you arrive here, place the carrier on our counter, not on the floor in front of other pets.
    • Cover the carrier with a lightweight sheet or blanket (not white) to help muffle noises and smells for your pet.
  • Start feeding yummy, high-reward treats before you get your pet into the vehicle, during the ride (if possible), in the clinic parking lot and the clinic waiting area. These treats must be something your pet absolutely loves and doesn’t get at other times. The best way to use treats, is to give VERY small treat rewards VERY often – tiny little treats one after the other to the pet.
  • Have your pet come in just to visit us using the same techniques described above. If they come here often and aren’t ALWAYS getting poked and prodded, their anxiety levels will not be as heightened. These “happy” visits are very helpful for a lot of pets but don’t forget all the good treats before you even get in the door here (see above)!
  • Our pets are very smart and pick up on OUR anxiety. Always speak in soft tones, use slow movements and try to minimize your stress surrounding vet visits. We know your days are full of stresses but taking some deep breaths before and during your trek to see us with your pet will make you both feel better! Keep your radio volume low in the car and try some classical music instead of something loud and pulsing.
  • Never feed your pet before their visit. A hungry pet will be more easily distracted by treats than a pet that just ate a full meal. Push off supper until your pet comes home from their visit and remember that their stomach is probably half full with treats they got during their appointment!
  • Do not talk “baby talk” to your pet. Speaking in such a tone can actually cause more anxiety in your pet because hearing this tone from you reinforces the fact that there IS actually something to be anxious about.
  • Careful with your comforting – just like with the “baby talk,” leaning over your animal, excessive petting and “soothing” just escalate anxiety in your pet. Again, these actions are telling your pet there is something to be anxious about. Instead, feed your pet yummy treats, ask them to do normal things for you like “sit,” “shake,” etc.while you are waiting for your appointment.

These are relatively easy things you can do to help your pet. We are definitely making multiple changes on our end to help ease your pet’s anxiety. This will be the first of many blogs discussing anxiety and working towards a fear-free visit for your pet. Please let us know if we can do more to help you prepare for your pet’s visit with us.

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