Fearless...What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?
What are you afraid of? Spiders? An auditorium full of people waiting for you to speak? A loud knock on your door late at night? Whatever the stimulus, fear sets off a chain reaction in your brain that starts and ends with the release of chemicals in the body that cause your heart to pound, breathing rate to increase, and muscles to tense. These are just a few of the things involved in what is known as the fight-or-flight response. The fear response is almost entirely automatic. We don't consciously trigger it or even know what's going on until it has run its course.
Currently in the veterinary world there is a new movement to better recognize and address the fear, anxiety and stress (FAS) pets can experience with veterinary visits. Let me introduce you to the new buzz words, Fear Free Veterinary Visits. It is an extremely important and long overdue change that will impact us all in a positive way. The Fear Free principles are based on the research and work of the late Dr. Sophia Yin, Dr. Karen Overall, and many other dedicated animal behaviorists, trainers, and veterinarians. Dr. Marty Becker is at the forefront of promoting and educating our profession, and he is a capable and motivating champion of the cause.
KAH is excited to be currently participating in the learning and certification process of this movement! We already like giving lots of treats to our patients, encourage clients to drop by for a social call with their pets for desensitization, and we continue to find ways to calm those who show distress during visits and procedures. An important principle we've found is that addressing fear, stress, and anxiety surrounding veterinary visits begins at home.
Here are a few things you can do to help make veterinary appointments less stressful for your pet:
Give yourself plenty of time to get to the appointment. Plan on leaving the house 10 minutes earlier than you think you need to get there, and prepare for your trip several hours in advance or preferably the night before. Not only will this help minimize your own stress, it will also help you drive safely, and avoid erratic stops and starts which can greatly contribute to your pet's anxiety and car sickness.
Properly restrain your dog or cat within the car. This isn't only a safety issue, it also helps your pet feel more secure and lessens anxiety during car travel. For cats, a hard shell carrier that is not too big or too small is best for transport. Covering the carrier with a cloth can be helpful and placing the carrier on the floor behind the passenger seat can help provide a secure and easy ride. It is also important to hold the carrier in both arms, rather than dangling from the handle thus avoiding swaying and jostling of your pet which can cause anxiety and stress.
Pheromone sprays for dogs and cats such as Adaptil or Sentry may be applied in your pet's crate, on their harness, and in the car. These create a calming effect on your pets’ nervous system and are very beneficial. Making sure that your pet is accustom to their crate or carrier by leaving it open and available in your home is also helpful. Giving treats at home in the carrier is a great idea to help pets associate their crate with good things.
Play calming music in the car on the way to your pet's appointment. Classical music or a pet-specific calming CD, such as those in the Through a Dog's Ears series are good places to start.
For pets that get particularly stressed during trips to the vet, do all the above but also ask us about possible pre-visit medication options you can administer at home to help reduce the fear reaction in your animal.
Perhaps one of the most important variables to address is the emotions and feelings you as a pet owner experience when bringing a fearful or anxious pet to their appointment. A phenomenon where well- meaning and concerned owners trigger and reinforce their pet's anxiety surrounding a procedure or visit is observed. Work to keep you own fear, anxiety, and stress low and if you are struggling with that, consider stepping out of the room or asking us to perform a procedure on your pet in the back treatment area. On occasion this is a good and calming option.
Stay tuned for more on Fear Free Veterinary Visits as we continue our certification process. We'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences on what's working or not working for your pets. Communication is the key and we are here to listen and respond in ways that will help. We look forward to seeing you and sharing what we are learning. As fright month wraps up, may your faith be bigger than your fear!