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Fear free vet clinics
The concept of the “fear free” vet clinic is the latest idea to be imported to Ireland from the USA
Like the “pain free dentist”, this is an idea that seems obvious when you think about it.
Vet clinics can be frightening for pets
In the past, vets have taken a traditional view to handling dogs and cats
People used to say: “Of course they don’t like going there: strange things happen and it’s frightening”
- They meet unfamiliar strangers and animals in the waiting room
- They get grabbed by strangers wearing white coats
- They get put on a table and held down while they get examined
- They get poked with thermometers and needles
- Sometimes mildly painful things are done to them (sore joints twisted, wounds cleaned, areas of discomfort handled, blood samples taken)
- If they resist, they get restrained more strongly, muzzles are applied and cats may be “scruffed”
Animals have a strong emotional memory, and these events all add up to a “bad experience”, which means that next time they go to the vet, they are frightened.
They may refuse to get into the cat basket, they may tremble and shake in the car when they go near the vet, and dogs may need to be dragged over the vet’s threshold, resisting like mad. And when they reach the vet in this fearful state, brute force is then used to make sure that they don’t bite or scratch anyone
This just makes for another bad experience, making them even more fearful the next time.
This used to just be “normal” but the new concept of fear free vet clinics takes the view that it is not inevitable, and that with care and planning, the vet can become a pleasant place for pets
How can vet visits be made more pleasant for dogs and cats?
- Vets need to learn never to carry out minor procedures on fully conscious animals, especially if they are getting fearful or upset
Instead, they should use sedatives/ anti-anxiety drugs at an early stage
- Often these drugs also have a memory blocking effect, so that the animals can’t remember any minor bad experiences, which stops any fear from being reinforced because events are forgotten
- Vets should plan the waiting room to make sure that pets have good experiences there.
- Separate areas for dogs and cats (in Brayvet we have a completely separate cat waiting room)
- Big waiting room so that large dogs can be kept away from small ones
- Reactive dogs can even be put on their own into a consultation room rather than being allowed to bark at other dogs
- Muzzles should only be used when dogs have been trained to wear them rather than being slammed on to an uncooperative dog
The only issue about a fear-free approach is that it tends to be more costly (sedatives, etc) and more time consuming (you can’t just go ahead and do things; you need to pause and take time). But if you think about it, people often want to treat their pets like children, and there’s no way anyone would tolerate a child being held down, wriggling and crying, while minor procedures are carried out