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Manage vaccine administration with Fear Free methods

dvm360dvm360 November 2023
Volume 54
Issue 11
Pages: 48
Atlantic City

Meghan Herron, DVM, DACVB, shared calming techniques to reduce fear, anxiety, and stress in dogs and cats at dvm360’s 2023 Fetch Coastal conference

Photo: Ilike/Adobe Stock

Photo: Ilike/Adobe Stock

Preventive care for cats and dogs in shelter medicine through vaccination is important for reducing the risk of infection and disease transmission between animals and staff. Meghan Herron, DVM, DACVB, a veterinary behaviorist for Gigi’s pet adoption service in Canal Winchester, Ohio, explained in a session at the dvm360 Fetch Coastal conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey, that keeping animals calm and reducing their fear when administering vaccinations can go a long way in keeping them and the veterinary team safe.1

Recommended preventives

The Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ (ASV) Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters provides vaccination schedules for animals residing in shelters, rescues, fosters, and sanctuaries. These guidelines are a resource for organizational self-assessment and improvement, a framework for shelter consultations, and a basis for shelter regulation, according to ASV.2

The vaccination schedule outlined in the ASV guidelines requires core inoculations for adult dogs and cats upon or before intake at shelters and should include those that are pregnant or displaying signs of illness. Core vaccinations for puppies and kittens in foster care and shelter facilities at or before intake must begin when aged 4 weeks or older, with boosters administered every 2 weeks until the age of 20 weeks.3

According to the ASV guidelines, dogs should receive the subcutaneous modified-live virus (MLV) vaccine for canine distemper virus, canine adenovirus types 1 and 2, canine parainfluenza virus, and canine parvovirus (DAPP) upon intake, with boosters administered every 2 to 4 weeks.1,3 Dogs aged 3 weeks and older should also receive the intranasal MLV vaccine against Bordetella bronchiseptica and parainfluenza (Bb/PI) upon intake. For dogs that do not tolerate intranasal administration, an oral B bronchiseptica vaccine (truCan B; Elanco Animal Health Incorporated) can be used as an alternative.1

Cats should receive the MLV vaccine on intake for feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia (FVRCP), with boosters administered every 2 to 4 weeks. Both dogs and cats aged 12 weeks and older should also be vaccinated once for rabies.1,3

In her lecture, sponsored by Elanco, Herron also addressed the need for endo- and ectoparasite control, noting that all dogs and cats older than 2 weeks should be treated upon intake for roundworms and hookworms. Throughout their stay at a shelter, all dogs and cats should continue to receive antiparasiticides, with products administered dependent on each animal’s age, she explained.1

Calming techniques

At the time of intake, animals entering a shelter should be evaluated for fear, anxiety, stress, and frustration using Fear Free scales for dogs and cats that can help determine low, moderate, and high levels of these emotions. Once evaluated, Fear Free methods that use gentle calming techniques can be deployed.1

Consider the senses

In preparing for an animal’s visit with veterinary professionals, Herron recommended audio, visual, and olfactory considerations to help put patients at ease. These include dimming the lights, blocking visual access to humans and other animals, avoiding sudden and quick movements, speaking softly and sparingly, choosing a quiet area for the patient, using classical music or white noise, minimizing use of harsh chemicals (eg, bleach or ammonia), and releasing scents that aid in relaxation (eg, lavender or chamomile). Avoiding cold, slippery surfaces, such as incorporating the use of nonslip mats, can also help reduce an animal’s anxiety or stress.1

Using food

Herron noted that shelter animals have often been conditioned to fear veterinary clinics. However, animal care professionals can provide counterconditioning to replace a patient’s fear with a more positive emotion. This is how food is applied as a calming tool for dogs and cats. Herron recommended serving food before vaccine administration and allowing the animal to continue eating through the administration of the injection as both a distraction and to evoke a good temperament. “Food triggers an automatic unconditioned positive response,” she said.1

With oral preventives such as some parasiticides, Herron said mixing liquids with palatable food, such as whipped cream or canned meals, can serve as another way to distract patients from medication administration. She suggested a “medicine sandwich or parfait” in a syringe with the liquid drug layered in the middle of food. The intention is not to squirt out all the substance into the patient’s mouth at once but to empty the syringe more slowly to allow the animal to taste the food as it gets pushed out before and after the medication.1

Herron also suggested using food for dogs that do not tolerate intranasal vaccine administration. She said food can be offered by a staff member on one finger as the animal’s vision is blocked by other fingers. The intranasal vaccine can then be administered between the fingers.1


For injections, desensitizing the animal to a needle stick is another way to keep them calm. Herron said this technique starts with a low-level stimulus, such as the touch of a finger. The stimulus gradually increases with items such as a ballpoint pen or a capped needle mimicking an injection. Finally, the needle is injected. She said it takes approximately 20 seconds to complete the desensitization process, which is used successfully on her own pets.1

Combination vaccines

Using low-volume vaccines, such as Elanco’s TruFel or TruCan Ultra 1/2ml vaccines, combination inoculations can help prevent anxiety and decrease stress in patients and clients, according to Heron.1 These vaccines—such as DAPP, Bb/PI, and FVRCP—require fewer injections and have a shorter duration of administration.4

Chemical assistance

Pharmacological sedation can be an option in certain cases, according to Herron. She suggested allowing time for sedatives to take effect following their administration before attempting a vaccination. While veterinary professionals wait for the sedative to take effect and calm the animal, they can optimize efficiency by seeing other patients.1

End on a positive note

Marty Becker, DVM, founder of Fear Free Pets, recommends rewarding animals following vaccination. The reward can be an edible treat, a physical touch with a grooming tool, or a therapeutic massage.5


  1. Herron M. Providing vaccines to shelter animals the Fear Free Way. Presented at: Fetch Coastal; October 9-11, 2023; Atlantic City, NJ.
  2. Association of Shelter Veterinarians launches updated Guidelines for Standards of Care. News release. Association of Shelter Veterinarians. January 10, 2023. Accessed October 10, 2023. https://higherlogicdownload.s3.amazonaws.com/ASV/fa11b6a5-ea22-45cc-9b33-416a24d44499/UploadedImages/ED_ASV_newguidelines_release_final__1_.pdf
  3. Checklist of key statements from the 2022 ASV Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters and the Journal of Shelter Medicine and Community Animal Health. Association of Shelter Veterinarians. Accessed October 10, 2023. https://higherlogicdownload.s3.amazonaws.com/ASV/fa11b6a5-ea22-45cc-9b33-416a24d44499/UploadedImages/2022-ASV-GL-Checklist.pdf
  4. Campbell Thornton K. 4 ways to talk to clients about vaccines. Fear Free Pets. Accessed October 9, 2023. https://fearfreepets.com/4-ways-to-talk-to-clients-about-vaccines/#:~:text=To%20prevent%20anxiety%2C%20reduce%20stress,shorter%20duration%20of%20the%20injection
  5. Tips for a Fear Free pet vaccination. University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. August 2, 2017. Accessed October 9, 2023. https://sheltermedicine.vetmed.ufl.edu/2017/08/02/tips-for-a-fear-free-pet-vaccination/
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