5 bite-sized tips for going Fear Free in 2018


Its a huge movement in veterinary medicine, but getting started is surprisingly simple.

Shutterstock.comWe all probably know by now that decreasing stress to our patients is not only a good idea, but it is also the right thing to do. We know that it benefits everyone, from our team to pets to pet owners, but the task can be overwhelming. So where do you begin? Here's a quick list to break Fear Free veterinary practice into bite-sized pieces.

1. Stock up on goodies

Pet weight reduction diets can start at home and not your office. I tell clients that I have to bribe my patients and they seem OK with it. Make sure that you have tons of enticing treats on hand. Remember, each pet is different because a pet's tastes develop early in life during the socialization period. Secret insider tip: Ask one of your sales reps to bring pet goodies instead of doughnuts for meetings. (Doughnuts are bad for you anyway!)

2. Brush up on body language

Make sure you and your coworkers know how to tell what your patients are saying. Animals communicate with their faces, ears and posture. Make sure you (and everyone who handles pets) are fluent in pet-ese. Tip: Make videos of pets in the kennel or exam rooms and then discuss what you think they're feeling during team meetings. You can even find random videos online-trust me, YouTube has examples of the good, the bad and the ugly, and you can use them to learn for free.

3. Know when to say when

There are times when you're trying to examine a pet or conduct a procedure or service, the pet is not feeling it, and your Fear Free strategies aren't working. It's critical for doctors and team members to know when to stop. Fear Free defines these stopping points as three seconds of resistance for dogs and only two seconds for cats. You can modify these guidelines for your own situation if you need to, but always respect the pet enough to stop before the handling sends him into a panic.

4. Educate your clients

Since so much of Fear Free starts at home, it's imperative to educate your pet owners about the signs of fear, anxiety and stress. Chances are they haven't thought much about their pet's distress, and they may even think it's acceptable or funny. It's up to you to speak for pets and translate their unspoken messages for owners. Tip: Direct your clients to fearfreehappyhomes.com for resources and product recommendations to reduce fear in the home environment. There's even an entire section devoted to veterinary visits.

5. Don't wait to medicate

We are healthcare professionals. Solving problems is what we do! If you're handling a pet and you get that feeling that things are going south, stop and put some chemistry to good use. When I was in vet school, I had a professor who preached “better living through chemistry,” and I never forgot it. Do not be afraid of medications. The Fear Free team includes well-known behaviorists, anesthesiologists and internists. They have “vetted” the drugs and doses. There is no reason to not treat fear.

On a personal note, changing my mindset to a Fear Free one has absolutely changed my life. These five tips will get you started on your way to a better quality of life for everyone.

Kathryn Primm, DVM, owns Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee, and has a growing career as a writer, speaker and online voice for veterinarians and pet owners alike. Dr. Primm is the author of Tennessee Tails: Pets and Their People. She was also the nation's first Fear Free certified professional.

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