The Fear Free Future

 - part 1 (3 part series)

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Times are changing in the veterinary world and this time for the better.  Fear-Free Veterinary Visits is the way of the future.  Providing “fear free” veterinary care for pets is a big step forward for pets, pet owners and veterinary teams alike!  This article is a 3-part series examining this movement, with part-1 focusing on what fear-free is all about and why it is important for the future.

Veterinarians are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of mental health in our pets.  We now have better understanding of the interplay between physical and mental health.  We also recognise there is a better way to provide veterinary care for our patients.  Veterinarians and veterinary nurses are now embracing strategies to minimise fear, stress and anxiety (FAS) in our patients.

There are many strategies to minimise FAS for pets, and often it needs to be tailored specifically to the needs of the individual pet.  Minimising FAS has a whole team and whole hospital approach; starting the moment the pet arrives at the clinic and comprises the car-trip and arrival, the waiting room experience, the examination in the consultation room, through to admissions for surgery, medical procedures or diagnostic testing and hospitalisation. 

Veterinary team members are receiving better training on utilising low-stress handling techniques to minimise FAS.  This ultimately improves the patient and owners experience in the clinic, and for veterinary staff I can assure you it is a much more enjoyable and safer way to practice veterinary medicine.

Veterinarians can complete additional training in this “fear-free” field and be certified as a “Fear Free Veterinarian”.  This certification is a terrific initiative, as it promotes recognising, preventing and reducing FAS in veterinary patients, that ultimately means that better veterinary care can be provided to the patients.  As this is something I feel very passionate about, I have recently completed my certification.

As veterinary hospitals are traditionally not a place many pets enjoy visiting, many pets who come to veterinary clinics are fearful.  Pets may be coming in when they are already feeling under the weather.  Physical examination can be rather invasive and or unpleasant experiences for pets; otoscopes in ears, thermometers in bottom, palpating sore joints, trimming sensitive nails, injections, blood test..  For some pets, they may have unpleasant memories of previous visits, perhaps a painful injection, or perhaps they were left at the clinic for the day for a surgical procedure away from the comforts of their own home and family.  For some pets its the unfamiliar smells, noises and other animals in the waiting area.  For other pets, they may already be a little anxious or fearful of new or unfamiliar situations, or meeting new people.  The veterinary clinic can be a hard sell for many pets.  Whether it is due to a previous negative experience or a tendency not to adapt to new situations well, fear-free aims to reduce that distress and discomfort.

Another interesting truth is that a fearful pet is more likely to bite or injure veterinary staff.  The fearful pet who is being examined may feel they have no choice, other than to “fight for their life” and resort to aggression.  It can be challenging to examine, diagnose and treat a pet who is showing signs of FAS, and it can be super difficult to examine a pet who is trying to bite you.  The pet has a terrible time.  The owner is often distressed, and unsurprisingly veterinarians are not having a great time either.  Asides form a really negative experience, ultimately pets experiencing FAS may also get compromised patient care, from both a diagnostic and treatment stand-point.

However, the good news is as veterinarians we are changing our WHOLE approach to the veterinary care we provide your pet, with the ultimate goal to minimise the distress, discomfort and negative emotional states (FAS) associated with a veterinary visit.  Part 2 will examine some of the strategies vets are taking to make these changes, and part 3 will look at some simple changes you can do as owners to facilitate this positive veterinary experience.

Words by Dr Lucy

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