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Fear Free Veterinary Visits

Posted 11.30.17 by Susanne Heartsill, DVM

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of transporting a vocal, scared cat, you’ve probably wondered if there is a better way.  What about the dog who shakes and hides under your chair in the veterinary exam room…refusing to come out or even look at anyone?  Or worse, the patient who growls and bites due to stress, fear and anxiety. These animals aren’t “bad” or “naughty”…they’re frightened.  Thankfully for everyone involved, now there is a better way.  The latest buzz phrase in veterinary medicine is “fear free”….but what does it mean and how can it help your pet?

Stressful veterinary visits are problematic and lead to fewer animals seeing their veterinary professionals on a regular basis; which in turn increases the incidence of preventable diseases and animal suffering.   Physiologic changes occur in all mammals when faced with stress…we sweat and our heart rate goes up, our pupils dilate and we are poised for fight or flight.  As mammals, the same phenomenon occurs in dogs and cats but their individual responses to these physiological changes can be different and difficult to identify.  Our job, and yours, is to recognize these behaviors and do what we can to alleviate their fears.  Sounds like an impossible feat…but it’s getting easier.

Fear Free handling is an initiative to educate clients and veterinary staff in techniques to reduce stress and fear during veterinary visits.  Our hospitals are educated in and employ these techniques.  Some of the ways we reduce stress include utilizing an assessment tool called the fear, anxiety and stress scale (FAS), avoiding eye contact with the fearful patient and focusing on the client when first in the exam room, providing non-slip surfaces so your pets feel more comfortable on the exam tables, creating a calming environment with phermone sprays and aromatherapy, gentle compression during exams to soothe the pet, anti-anxiety medications where needed and gentle, calming handling in all situations.

So next time you get out that carrier and your cat runs and hides….please contact your veterinarian for techniques that start at home to reduce the stress and fear they feel.  Working as a team with our pet owners makes a huge difference in the exam room.

For more information about the Fear Free initiative and certification program, check out their website here (  And as always, contact your veterinarian with questions about your pets health or behavior.


Dr. Susanne Heartsill

The Pet Hospitals– Downtown

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