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Fear Free

Whenever your dog or cat comes to visit our animal hospital, it is our goal that they have a “fear- free” visit. Over the past several years, we have been implementing changes in our hospital to help address our patients’ experience. We understand that coming to the pet hospital can be a stressful time for both our patients and their parents. Since regular visits to the veterinary hospital are an essential way to keep your pets healthy and are a necessity when they are sick. It is important to minimize any fear, stress, and anxiety during their visits. The experience of a veterinary visit usually begins even before your furry family members leave your home. Thus you too can help influence and improve their experience.

For our feline friends and small dogs especially, a visit often means getting them into the carrier or kennel as a means of safe transport. Commonly, we hear that this process is associated with a lot of stress. To minimize anxiety, it is a good idea to train them at young age, while they are still kittens and puppies, to view their carrier as a “safe” place. We recommend leaving the carrier out in the home at all times, so they do not pre-emptively get stressed by associating it with a visit to the veterinary office.

Furthermore, if you train your family member to view the carrier as a safe place, then this can help to minimize stress during a visit to the veterinary hospital. This association can often be achieved by slow and patient training with positive reinforcement and associations with high-value items such as food, treats, or toys. If your pet has already learned to associate the carrier with negative experiences, it may be necessary to desensitize them slowly to the carrier and eventually counter-condition them to view it more positively.

You have some control over is the transport to the hospital. During the transport in the car, keep your pet calm and reassured. You can play soothing music in the car. For patients in carriers or crates, please place them in a safe and secure place- we recommend on the floor behind the passenger seat. A towel to cover the carrier may also be helpful to minimize visual stimuli that can be stressful especially for our feline patients. For larger canine patients, it is important to purchase a safe and secure body harness to secure them on the car seat during the car ride. If possible, it may also be helpful to train canine patients (even feline patients if travelling is frequent) at a young age for car rides. Again, positive reinforcement and desensitization both play an important role here.

Before or during arrival at the veterinary hospital let the team know if there are any special needs for your family members. A “fear-free” –certified veterinary team will be prepared to help minimize stress at all stages of the veterinary visit. Your pet may do better being placed in a private room right away or having an appointment booked at a quieter time of the day. For example, if your pet is especially nervous around other animals or people, or does not tolerate too much noise.

Finally, for the rest of the veterinary visit, our team will employ “fear-free” techniques during the examination and treatment process to help assess and minimize the level of fear, anxiety, and stress. If a patient is especially stressed during the visit, we will provide you with other measures to help minimize stress and improve the experience for all future visits. It is our goal that our patients feel at ease with us and trust that we have their best interests at heart. More than anything, we want to make our patients feel that a visit to the veterinary hospital is simply just a rendezvous with friends. If you have any questions or require any tips on how to provide a “fear-free” veterinary visit, please do not hesitate to speak to our health care team.

Written by: Dr. Chan

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