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What is Fear Free and why do we care?
What is Fear Free and why do we care? New studies have shown that when a dog or cat experiences fear it is ingrained in the amygdala forever. So when that dog or cat comes into any veterinary hospital and has a bad experience, that animal will remember every time it returns to the vet. And if the experience continues to be bad, the pet will show worse and worse behavior over time. Ideally we want pets to only have happy experiences every time they come in no matter what treatment they are getting.
As pet owners, you know your pets best. You can tell when they are stressed, fearful or down right terrified. And a trip to the veterinarian is not high on a pets agenda of having a good time. However, there are things you can do at home that will help "de-stress" your pet before you even head to the car.
Start with crate training your cat. Don't wait until you are headed to the vet to pull out that carrier, leave it out in the room - all the time. Put your cat's favorite blanket in the carrier. Put cat treats and toys in the carrier. Then just leave it, with the door open. This will help your cat become used to the carriers smell and not worry when you pull it out for that “vet visit”.
A few minutes before you head to the car with your cat, spray the cats towel or blanket with a pheromone spray such as Feliway (can be purchased through our on-line store Vetsource). This will help calm your cat for the car ride. (If your cat is extremely fearful, start with a short trip around the block with a special treat when you return home. Build up to heading to the vet.)
When you arrive at the vets’ office, carry your cat’s carrier in your arms if there are dogs in the lobby. Keeping your cat above the dogs will help your cat feel more comfortable. If you have to wait in the lobby, keep your cat’s carrier on the bench or on a high counter until you can be placed in an exam room.
When possible, ask to be put in a cat only room so that there are limited dog smells in the room. If your cat is not too fearful, you can open your cat carrier door to allow your kitty to explore if they prefer. Do Not make your cat come out of the carrier. Most cats will feel safer tucked inside the carrier that they are used to.
If your dog likes to ride in the car you have half the battle concurred. If not, start with short car rides to places they enjoy; your favorite pet supply store, a dog park, a walk in the park. There are also several business that are dog friendly that you can take them to visit; Home Depot, Lowes, The Apple Store, Café Express (on the patio), The Ginger Man (on the patio), Keller Tavern (on the patio). Google dog friendly businesses and restaurant’s or call ahead to your favorite place to ask them. You can also bring your dog to the clinic for a cookie visit or a quick weigh in. Just come in to say hello and we will be happy to share a dog cookie for a few doggie kisses!
Feed your pet a smaller portion of food the day you are going to the vet. If you take them a little hungry, they will more readily take the treats they are offered at the vet’s office. They need to associate the vet’s office with good things, like yummy treats!
Just like with cats, there are pheromone sprays that may help with fearful dogs. Adaptil, available through our on-line store Vetsource, can be sprayed on your clothing or inside your car a few minutes before you leave for the vet visit. This may help calm your pet.
When headed to the vet, Don’t Baby your dog. Don’t try to sooth them with words to calm their fears. You may actually stress them more. When you are stressed or worried, so are they. They will feed off of your nervousness. Treat it just like going to one of the “fun” places you’ve been visiting. Happily tell them, you are really going to enjoy this, they are going to give you so many treats and so much love you will be ecstatic!
When you are in the exam room, allow your dog to be off her leash to explore the room. If they jump on people at home, allow them to jump at the vet’s office. We want them to feel comfortable; we don’t want them to feel punished for their behavior while here. (And please don’t be embarrassed by their behavior. Everyone at a vet’s office has pets and we understand what’s natural for a pet to do. Ours probably do the same.)
Start early. If you have a puppy or kitten, work on socializing them early. Bring your kitten in for a hello visit, get them used to the cat carrier, touch their feet, snuggle them close. Take your puppy on walks (no dog parks until they are fully vaccinated!), bring them for hello visits at the vet, touch their feet, rub their ears, introduce them to new people. The earlier in life your pet is exposed to new experiences, the more they will enjoy outings as they age. And if you have adopted an older pet, it’s never too late to start helping them to enjoy experiencing the world!