What if I told you and your veterinary customers that utilizing one program would allow you to increase client visits, decrease patient and client stress, decrease the potential for vet clinic staff injuries, and potentially decrease one of the most frequent causes of staff burnout? Is your first reaction, yeah right? Or show me how?

Veterinarians and vet nurses are an integral part to the human-animal bond. Not picking up on behavioral signs of fear erodes the joy of veterinary medicine whenever conflict develops with patients and increases the potential for injuries. Ultimately, any and all of this puts the human-animal bond in jeopardy. Sixty-seven percent of licensed clinical veterinarians and 98 percent of veterinary nurses experience an animal-related injury at some point in their careers.1 The reported methods of these injuries include bites, kicks, scratches, and being crushed by equipment used for animal restraint.1

Whenever possible, patient preparation before visits will help to prevent anxiety from accumulating and help alleviate stress upon arrival at the hospital.2 The majority of cat owners report the perception of stress for their cats is the primary reason they fail to seek veterinary care.3 A recent study shows the use of high-dose gabapentin is a safe and effective treatment for cats to help reduce stress and aggression and increase compliance for transportation and veterinary examination.4Appropriate use of sedation and analgesia is just one component of the Fear-FreeTM toolbox.

Fear-FreeTM is not an all-or-nothing system. It provides access to a wide variety of tools from which your veterinary customers can select those that make the most sense in their hospital. There are protocols for incremental use of sedation, anesthesia, as well as non-pharmaceutical options that work toward reducing the spectrum of fear, anxiety, and pain. One simple example begins as easily as giving little high-value tasty food treats and rewards to positively reinforce cooperative behaviors, thereby also strengthening the human-animal bond. Establishing cat-only exam rooms and caging spaces may not be logistically possible in your customer’s clinic but they can customize a solution that might, for instance, be as simple as placing feline patients and clients immediately into an exam room rather than a waiting room. These types of changes that move a practice in a more fear-free direction are for the betterment of our customers’ clients and patients as well as create a positive impact on their bottom-line. In addition, Fear-FreeTM is constantly evolving where new modules and material are being rolled out regularly. It also further inspires a means of collaboration where Fear-FreeTM members have the opportunity to collaborate on best practices.

In speaking with Dr. Marcy Hammerle, DVM, DABVP, who owns the first Fear-FreeTM certified hospital in the United States, Fear-FreeTM provides just “one more tool to customize treatment to the pet just like clinics already do for wellness and vaccine schedules”. She has personally seen Fear-FreeTM help her entire clinic in a myriad of positive ways. One way has been through being more empathetic to the emotional needs of the pet, which bonds the pet owner to the practice. And secondly through providing new challenges for the both the staff and veterinarians. She states, “it bonds the entire hospital staff team together to see things from a new and exciting perspective. It also challenges the team collaboratively to think outside the box for the betterment of the patient.”

Minimizing stress for all those involved must be the new standard of care, and is the pretense behind the Fear-FreeTM movement. Continual stress in the veterinary environment negatively impacts animal welfare, as well as immune function, rate of recovery, and increased risk of injury to staff.Benefits of creating low stress experiences are numerous. By identifying a young animal that is fearful or anxious early in life, minimizing the role of veterinary care in inducing and maintaining fear, staff can positively affect the patients’ life-long well-being and further enhance the human-animal bond.

I think Dr. Ralph Harvey, DVM, MS, DACVAA, a member of Fear-FreeTM’s Executive Council says it best, “Fear-FreeTM has some foundational principles that are beautiful in simplicity and astounding in the power of the transformation they bring. Fear-FreeTM replaces conflict with compassion. With regard to the ‘bottom-line,’ there is practically no cost to many of the Fear-FreeTM steps we take, and the value of the benefits achieved is hard to overestimate. Fear-FreeTM is a revolution toward becoming the ‘gentle doctor’ that all veterinarians learned to admire early in professional training and that we still aspire to become.”

If you would like to find out more information about Fear-FreeTM, please visit https://fearfreepets.com.

 1 Nienhaus A, Skudlik C, Seidler A. Work-related accidents and occupational diseases in veterinarians and their staff. Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2005;78:230–238.

2 Yin, S. Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats: Techniques for Patients Who Love Their Visits; CattleDog Publishing: Davis, CA, USA, 2009.

3 van Haaften KA, Forsythe LRE, Stelow EA, Bain MJ. Effects of a single preappointment dose of gabapentin on signs of stress in cats during transportation and veterinary examination. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 2017 Nov 15;251(10):1175-1181.

4 Pankratz KE, Ferris KK, Griffith EH, Sherman BL. Use of single- dose oral gabapentin to attenuate fear responses in cage-trap confined community cats: a double-blind, placebo-controlled field trial. J Feline Med Surg. 2017.

5 Rodan, I.; Sundahl, E.; Carney, H.; Gagnon, A.C.; Heath, S.; Landsberg, G.; Seksel, K.; Yin, S. AAFP and ISFM feline-friendly handling guidelines. J. Feline Med. Surg. 2011, 13, 364–375.