Creating an environment for successful outcomes
Nov 11, 2014

By Ruth Loomis, DVM

Brookswood Animal Clinic strives to be a “fear-free” clinic. What does that mean exactly? In my last post, I explained the term introduced by Dr. Marty Becker that he uses to describe the preferred method for practicing veterinary care.

Striving for a “Fear-Free” practice means changing how we handle our patients.  I have watched my kids’ pediatrician during their regular exams.  She talks quietly and calmly allowing them a sense of autonomy as she examines them.  While it would certainly be alarming and unexpected to witness in a pediatrician’s office, I have never seen their doctor put one of my kids in a head lock or call in a nurse to physically lie across them while she is probing them. If I had, I would have been looking for a new pediatrician!  This same approach can and should be used with our pets. 

Educating pet owners on what they can do (bring in their pets favorite treats to be used during the exam, acclimating their pets to a carrier and the car prior to a vet visit, distracting their animals with gentle pets and or a favorite toy during the exam) and training the staff on gentle handling and calming techniques (lifting cats out of the top of a carrier instead of pulling them out, providing soft warm blankets or towels for pets to snuggle in, being generous with treats, avoiding rectal temperatures unless warranted) are all essential in helping create a positive veterinary experience.  If a pet becomes stressed or anxious, then we should heed this and stop – a nail trim or a vaccination is not an emergency – and the damage done by a bad hospital visit can impact the pets care for the rest of their lives.  Recognizing the signs of fear and or anxiety is important. 

Until I started doing research on this subject I had enjoyed the “frozen” patient.  They seemed to be an ideal patient because they hardly moved.  I now realize these patients were only cooperative because they were too terrified to function and that makes me sad.  Honestly, they were just as paralyzed as a deer in head lights. Because these patients were so “cooperative” we would take full advantage – nail trim, rectal temperature, turning them this way and that. 

My practice will not take this traditional approach, as I have learned these patients are in mental anguish.  They need to be treated gently – coaxed out of their stupor and have minimal handling.  I also have more empathy for the hissing cat or the growling dog – when owners tell me they are really very sweet and loving and only act like this at the vet's office.  Research has demonstrated and I now realize what a disservice we have done to them.  I understand that sometimes restraint is necessary – and far too often this is the consequence to mistakes made in the past – but I want to make this the exception and not the rule.

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