Fear Free veterinary visits at Wellington Veterinary Hospital

It sounds so simple. So obvious. So reasonable.

Why wouldn’t pet owners, their animals and veterinary staff all want to make a visit to the vet as stress-free and pleasant as possible for everyone involved? Turns out they do want to. And many veterinarians and their staffs have taken steps to create an environment that works toward these goals, that is interested in a higher level of respect for their four-legged patients.

But it wasn’t until April, 2016 that Marty Becker, known as “America’s Veterinarian” introduced a national initiative to educate veterinarians and members of their working teams. Called Fear Free, the initiative is presented through a series of eight modules that cover a wide range of subjects from identifying the causes of patient stress to transporting them comfortably and waiting room, exam room and hospital procedures. Study and certification takes about 12 hours.

Teva Stone, Tracey Jensen and vet assistant Chloe Muir at Wellington Veterinary Hospital have already completed the course required for certification and seven other members of the Wellington Vet team are in the process of studying to be certified.

The veterinarians learned about Fear Free at an American Animal Hospital Association meeting in March and became enthusiastic about putting the ideas into practice. Doing so has resulted in validating and enhancing the methods that were already in use at the hospital. They were already employing a Cat Friendly initiative to make veterinary visits less traumatic for their feline clients and this year were awarded a gold-level standard for their efforts.

Wellington Vet hospital has five separate examining rooms and works to minimize animal-to-animal interaction as much as possible. They often use mats and work on the floor instead of placing patients on a cold, high examining table. They have become conscious of using dim light, less frightening for animals. There are times when they place animals on their laps for treatment. They regularly check out their patients in the examining room rather than in the waiting/reception area. They share Fear Free techniques with their clients.

Jensen says that an important learning for her has been realizing that fear, anxiety and stress can cause changes in an animal’s brain chemistry that are sometimes irreversible. “Animals feed off their owners,” she says. Tension is easily transmitted from human to animal. “We see pet owners relax when their animals are under less stress.”

Stone and Jensen are both small people, making it difficult, if not impossible for them to restrain larger animals by force. They prefer more humane methods. Sometimes they use treats—marshmallows or cheese—to distract their patients.

The Fear Free initiative has plans to certify 5,000 veterinary professionals nationwide in the next year. There are already 50 vet hospitals using the initiative. Fear Free training is open to all veterinary professionals.

Learn more about the Fear Free initiative at fearfreepets.com.

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