What Makes a Fear Free Practice Different?


Janet McConnell, CVT, director of education and professional development at Compassion-First Pet Hospitals, explains some of the measures that are taken at Fear Free veterinary practices to create a calmer experience for patients.

Janet McConnell, CVT, director of education and professional development at Compassion-First Pet Hospitals, explains some of the measures that are taken at Fear Free veterinary practices to create a calmer experience for patients.

"Some of the Fear Free techniques that that you would see in a Fear Free, or a practice that has Fear Free professionals working at it—those are professionals that have been trained through the course. It's an online course that they take and there's 7 modules, and they learn everything from transporting the animal into the hospital, to how that animal is greeted in the hospital, to transport within the hospital. What's their experience? What are they feeling? What are they seeing? So, our goal is to make it less stressful. So it even starts with the phone call to the client about educating them on a less stressful visit, or transport rather, to the hospital. Where are you putting your animal in the car? Is he having a stress-free ride to the hospital? What are we doing if you know your animal has anxiety? Like, my own dog has anxiety, she is a ball of nervousness. So, I know to spray the car with pheromones well ahead of time before I get her into the car, and let that sit for 20 minutes, play calming music, have her securely fastened in the car, that way she's arriving at the hospital already kind of, you know, with a low you know low stress level.

And then, it's our job at the hospital to know okay do we take that animal right into the exam room or maybe we let that animal sit in a nice peaceful calm car, instead of perhaps a more rowdy exam room waiting area with dogs, and cats, and god knows what comes through the door. And maybe they just go directly into the exam room. You know, do we provide visual barriers for those animals when they come in, so they're not threatened by something else when they walk in. A good example of that is transporting cats. So a lot of times owners may bring in the cats and they're carriers by the handle on the top, because that's what they hand a little you think is used for, but the cat may be swinging inside back and forth and all he's seeing is this and that. So we train them, like carry it like a package, like a fragile package, and perhaps cover that with a towel that's sprayed with pheromones that helps them relax, and bring them in and keep them at a higher level so not down and feeling threatened by a dog that's like "well I want to get you".

So, it starts with that and then in the hospital we're very, very aware of ourselves and our tone of our voice. I'm a loud person by nature, so I have to remember Fear Free, take it down, take it down. Our conversations are, you know, if we're an exam room how many times do we go in and out of the exam room? How disruptive may that be to the patient? We have a calming environment in terms of lighting, sounds, non-skid surfaces—or non-slip rather— surfaces, so we put yoga mats on tables. We put things that are non-skid, so the animals have traction, because one thing that induces fear is slippery surfaces, right—even we get scared. The slippery surfaces, it produces fear. We're very aware of our sounds, our other sounds in the hospital of other animals that may be perhaps having a procedure done or somebody coming in for an emergency. Different species: if you're able to have cats separated from dogs, things of that that would you know produce a more stressful, stressless—what's the word I'm looking for? A calmer experience for an animal! So, we're very aware of that.

And then in the hospital, even walking animals through the hospital, we have to be aware of what are they seeing, what's going by? So we create paths that are least stressful for the animals going by then. So, they're not walking by animals that say maybe you know, are post-op from surgery, or maybe animals that have just come in on triage that are waiting to have their diagnostics run. Those animals come through a pathway that is low-key, not a lot of chemical smells—we try to keep that down—sprayed with pheromones. We have cages already that are waiting for them that have non-skid services, that have already been sprayed. We play music. There's music cubes that Fear Free has that is clinically proven to take the stress level down, so you can have that in the wards. You know, try to keep the wards as quiet as possible. Again, limiting the sounds of like beepers and things like that that may also be triggers for animals. Like my dog doesn't like fire alarms. She freaks out when she hears the fire alarm, and she's not right for days. But we also have monitors, like we have fluid pumps, we have different types of monitors, especially say in CCU, that may mimic those sounds and those could be triggers for fear as well.

So, it's getting your mindset into what are those triggers and getting the education from the Fear Free program that is written by behaviorist. You read this and it's like "oh yeah of course, this makes sense. I'm afraid when I hear those things when I go in a hospital". So, really keeping those things in mind, getting the education for it really helps with that stress free."

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