Pet fear and stress are major factors keeping pet owners away from vet clinics.
It comes as no surprise that pets and owners personalities, environments, backgrounds and other factors are diverse – many of these factors play into how a pet behaves in our clinic. Even under normal circumstances, when a new patient comes into the clinic, everything is foreign, nothing makes sense, and nothing is natural.
It also doesn’t help that people take it personally when their pet is called ‘mean’ or ‘crazy’- as clients closely identify with their pets. In actuality, those descriptions often skirt the truth that pets are simply afraid.
While widespread research already exists associated with understanding the effects of fear and anxiety in animals, there continues to be an ongoing need for more examination in this emerging veterinary field.
Table of Contents:
What is Fear Free ?
Why Fear Free is important to you and your Pet.
What is the Fear Free Certification Process ?
How Fear Free is Practiced at the Cabbagetown Pet Clinic.
How to Recognize Stress in your Pet
6 Ways to make a Fear Free happy home for your Cat
5 Ways to make a Fear Free happy home for your Dog
Meet our Fear Free Certified team.
What is Fear Free and What does it Mean?
The goal of Fear Free is to keep the amount of stress in animals as low as possible at home or when visiting the veterinarian and to prevent it from expanding to outright anxiety or fear.
The Fear Free Mission Statement:
“Our mission is to prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety, and stress in pets by inspiring and educating the people who care for them.”
Dr. Marty Becker – dubbed “America’s Veterinarian” – founded the Fear Free movement in 2016. It has since become one of the most innovative initiatives in companion animal practice, with more than 52,000 veterinary and pet professionals across Canada and the United States dedicated to becoming Fear Free Certified®.
The Fear Free approach is based on recognizing and introducing a guide to reducing fear, anxiety, and stress-related to visits to veterinary hospitals.
The fear-free movement aims to eliminate elements in a vet practice that may trouble dogs and cats – things like white lab coats/scrubs, harsh lights and slippery, cold exam tables while adding things they like. Easy Cheeze!
This effort is a two-way street – accomplishing this takes energy and requires active communication between pet owners and their veterinary team.
The reward is simply a better experience and less stress for all involved.
How is Fear Free Beneficial for my Pet ?
It has been recognized by the veterinary community that pet hospital visits can cause psychological harm to some pets. When animals (and humans, for that matter) have repeated exposure to an experience linked to an adverse or distressing event, it’s becomes very difficult to reverse.
According to recent studies by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute:
- 77% of pets showed signs of anxiety and stress in a clinic environment.
- More than 50% of animals showed dislike for waiting in the reception area of their veterinarian’s office.
- 38% of owners are stressed about the prospect of taking their pets to the hospital.
Quite simply, one bad veterinary appointment won’t be easily forgotten and will make subsequent visits more challenging.
Cabbagetown Pet Clinic’s goal is to establish trust and re-boot the pet’s approach (if previously lost) and teach them not to respond to fight-or-flight mode.
What is the the Fear Free Certification Process ?
This demanding certification course was developed with feedback from a 160-member advisory group, including board-certified veterinary behaviourists, well-known veterinary practise management specialists and other leaders in the field.
The Fear Free Pet Professionals program is administered through eight, extensive online modules. Each component ends with an exam – this needs to be successfully completed prior to moving on to the next module. When all eight modules have been completed, the participant (or animal hospital) will be awarded a Fear Free Certificate.
Our Fear Free Certified Cabbagetown Pet Clinic staff is trained to:
- Reduce or remove anxiety triggers that can cause pets to become fearful at the veterinary hospital.
- Help and advise owners on how to deliver calm pets to our hospital.
- Enhance the quality of medicine in our practice.
- Improve safety for the veterinary team.
How is Fear Free Practiced at the Cabbagetown Pet Clinic ?
Our Cabbagetown staff have taken took ownership of the Fear Free movement and haven’t looked back. We understand the importance of applying these protocols, as it’s wonderful to see the reduction of fear, anxiety and stress in our patients daily.
What are some of the practices used in Fear Free handling at the Cabbagetown Pet Clinic ?
- Limited or no restraint when examining a pet.
- Additional time with each animal giving a pet more time to build trust = a positive relationship.
- Yummy treats to keep pets occupied during examinations. Easy Cheeze!
- Counter conditioning is the process of diverting a pet from potentially negative stimuli.
- Species-specific pheromone sprays in each exam room.
- Immediately moving anxious animals from the main reception area to an exam room.
- Skid-free mats on exam tables.
- Getting on the pet’s level, even if it’s on the floor.
- Knowledge of various medications that can minimize anxiety or stress.
- It is very important for our veterinary team and pet owners to be calm, speak in a peaceful cadence and to approach pets in a relaxed, deliberate manner.
Indicators of Stress in your Pet.
How to identify signs of stress in your dog.
- A tense face; lips drawn back.
- Tail between legs.
- Pinned back ears.
- Lowered body position.
- Dilated pupils.
- Snarling, growling or excessive barking.
Other forms of stress include loss of appetite and digestive issues. Any time a dog rejects food, it is an indicator that something could be wrong. If your dog is feeling anxious and stressed, it can lead to gastrointestinal issues including constipation and diarrhea.
How to identify signs of stress in your cat.
An anxious kitty is quite easy to spot. Common signs of stress and anxiety in cats are:
- Withdrawal and hiding.
- Becoming less active.
- Trying to escape.
- Ears held back on head.
- Dilated pupils.
- Destructive or aggressive behavior.
- Failure to use the litter box.
- Sores and lesions resulting from over-grooming.
Other symptoms include a loss of appetite, weight loss, extreme vocalization, sluggishness and restlessness.
In a case of separation anxiety, your cat will likely be fine as long as you’re around but may begin acting anxious when she can sense that you’re about to leave.
What can you do to create a Fear Free environment for your pet?
6 Ways to Make a Fear Free Happy Home for your Cat.
More people than ever are maintaining their cats indoors only – life for cats is far safer inside, with no coyotes or cars to put them at risk. In place of being outside, cats still require an enriched atmosphere for their physical, mental and emotional health.
The best way to enrich your cat’s environment is to appeal to their natural interests.
- Cats need a clean litter box(s).
Litter boxes are a requirement for all cats. Providing a litter box is the minimum. Thought has to be given to the size of the litter box, the location, the type of litter used, and the daily care of the litter box.
- Cats like to move.
Outside of sleeping 16+ hours per day(!), your cat likes to roam and hunt. Keep your cat’s mind stimulated for at least 20-30 minutes twice a day and help reduce stress with exercise and interactive games. Some cats prefer toys with feathers that mimic a bird, while others prefer those that look like a small rodent. Laser pointers are like catnip for entertainment.
- Cats are prolific hunters.
An increasing number of animal behaviour experts now support the notion of feeding cats from puzzle toys and even teaching them to search and “hunt” for their food indoors. The notion of free-feeding, or leaving food out 24/7 is increasingly antiquated.
Research has begun to demonstrate that animals (at least those species studied, ranging from captive zoo bears to laboratory rats) actually prefer to ‘work’ or ‘hunt’ for their meals than to have it placed in a bowl.
- Cats like elevation.
Unlike people, cats use vertical space – cat trees, cat-friendly tables, window ledges or perches – as well as horizontal space.
Most cats enjoy perches because it allows them to survey the surrounding area and see any perceived danger before the danger becomes a threat. Providing vertical space offers confident cats a good view of all that’s going on, and that feeling of control that cats crave.
- Cats need to scratch.
Scratching surfaces are important for your cat’s health and well-being.
They leave visual and scent messages with their claws. Even if there aren’t other felines in the home it doesn’t matter – cats are predisposed to scratch. Most cats prefer vertical and horizontal scratching options.
- Cats like hideouts.
When cats feel insecure, they will jump at the chance to find a place to hide. While under a sofa or bed is sufficient, a cat tunnel is the ‘cat’s meow’!
5 Ways to Provide a Fear Free Happy Home for your Dog
Life for most dogs is pretty good, but they are pack animals and NEED attention. Dogs love being around their owners and are completely loyal to them. The least we can do is return the favour in the following ways:
- Dogs need exercise.
Without a doubt, the number one way to reduce a dog’s stress is through regular, daily exercise. Walking, playing, trips to the dog park, swimming or any form of physical activity will not only reduce stress levels, it also helps them to live a longer and healthier life.
- Mental stimulation is just as effective as physical exercise.
Think about different types of toys available that entice a dog to work for a treat or reward.
- Soothing background noise.
Classical music has been used to “calm the savage beast” and can work the same for many dogs. While we’re away, relaxing tones can provide comfort during your absence. It could be as simple as leaving the television on while at work, or while running errands.
- Pet-owners emotions.
Attitude is everything. If you can remain composed, your dog becomes less stressed and anxious. Dogs are remarkably perceptive when picking up on our emotions – if we become upset along with them, they’ll simply continue the behavior.
- Crate training is a great practice.
When it comes to safely transporting your pet, you want your dog to feel like the crate provides them a refuge. Just like a den for wolves in the wild, this dog-friendly space makes them feel comfortable in their own space at home.