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Creating a Fear Free Experience

Many dogs and cats experience stress during their visits to the veterinarian. An unfamiliar place, sights, sounds, smells, and animals all add to an experience that creates a fear response. And besides being difficult for a pet owner to see in their loving companion, stress responses also make quality medical care difficult. This is because the stress hormone, cortisol, affects a pet’s body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. Veterinary professionals rely on these systems to assess a pet’s overall wellness. A stress response can make it difficult to know whether there is a health issue present or if a pet is merely fearful. That is why we are so passionate about Fear Free, and proud of our certification. Our team has undergone extensive and specialized training in handling and caring for pets to significantly reduce any fear experienced. And we have designed our hospital from the perspective of creating a comforting, warm, and gentle experience for pets. Because when your pet is family, nothing less will do.

  1. Medication Incognito. Many pets will consume a pill or capsule hidden in food or a tasty treat, such as cream cheese, peanut butter with no sugar or artificial sweeteners, liver paste, hot dogs, or canned cheese.
  2. Ask your veterinarian if it is okay to crush the pill. If it does not have a strong taste, you can mix the crushed pill with a teaspoon of canned food or tuna or clam juice.
  3. Try the 1-2-3 (4-5) trick! Prepare 3 to 5 “treatballs,” with one containing the medication. Give 1 or 2 treatballs sans the medication. While your pet is swallowing the treat, let him see you coming with the next one. Slip in the treatball with the medication, quickly followed by a chaser treatball.
  4. Some medications, such as antibiotics, may have a strong odor or bitter taste.
    • Ask if the medication can be compounded into a flavored liquid or chew or made into a small tablet size.
    • Ask if the medication can be placed in an empty gelatin capsule to minimize the odor and taste.
    • Use caution with hiding these types of medications in special food because you risk teaching your pet to avoid the food in the future. Conditioned taste aversion is very powerful. This is especially true with cats who might refuse the food that the medication was hidden in

Topical Treatments

These include applying routine topical heartworm, flea, and/or tick preventives, cleaning or medicating ears, administering eye drops or eye ointment, or giving allergy or insulin injections.

  • One option for administering treatments is the distraction technique. For instance, have a helper hold a bowl of canned food above the dog’s head, requiring him to look up. Once he’s eating, administer eye drops. Or smear some tuna on the counter for your cat to eat while you apply a topical parasite preventive.
  • If a treatment seems painful to your pet, contact your veterinarian. Reducing and minimizing pain is integral to providing a Fear Free experience.
  • If distraction techniques aren’t working, contact your Fear Free Certified®️ Veterinary Professional for guidance.
    Do not attempt these methods if your pet shows signs of fear, such as trembling and freezing; avoidance, or aggression, such as growling, hissing (cats), snarling, snapping, or swatting. Contact your Fear Free Certified®️ Veterinarian for assistance.

Your veterinary team wants to give your dog or cat the best care possible in an environment that will encourage your pet to be happy and relaxed, not fearful, anxious, or stressed. The more information you can provide in advance about your pet’s behavior and likes and dislikes, the more successful the visit will be. Before you call to make an appointment, take a couple of minutes to jot down the answers to the following questions so you’ll have the information at hand when the receptionist sets up your appointment.

Download Questions Here

You may have noticed that when you bring one pet home from the veterinarian or groomer, your other pets give the “returnee” the cold shoulder, acting as if they don’t know him. Worse, they may react negatively, even aggressively. That’s because the pet may smell or look different (especially if they have been shaved or had a surgical procedure), causing fear and anxiety in your other pets. Here are some tips to help prevent a negative reintroduction when returning home with a pet.

Assume it might not go well, and set your pets up for success. A negative reintroduction results in a long-lasting negative memory. There have been cases of cats no longer being able to live together after a reunion went badly. The time and financial commitment sometimes required to repair the relationship between pets can be prohibitive for some.

Manage the situation by controlling the reintroduction. Control the reintroduction by managing the other pets on leash, restricting them to another room, or keeping them behind a baby gate or exercise pen or inside their crate (if the pets are crate trained). This prevents the other pets from rushing up to the returning pet.

Provide a safe haven. If your pet was sedated or had any procedures performed that may not make him feel 100 percent, provide him with a safe and comfortable place to relax without the other pets around. This might be in a crate, exercise pen, or special room. Once he is back to himself, you can implement a controlled reintroduction to the household.

Mix their scents. Smell is so important to our pets. Cats, especially, seem to recognize each other by scent. Cats and dogs can be sensitive to unfamiliar smells, such as antiseptics or grooming products. Work to familiarize them with each other’s scents by allowing them to sniff each other through the space beneath a closed door. You can also artificially mix their scents. To do this, take a dry face cloth and allow your cat or dog to rub on it or pet them with it gently. Take the same cloth to all pets in the house and repeat. Leave the cloth out in the environment to let them get used to each other’s scents. Calming pheromones, such as Feliway Multicat or Adaptil, may also be helpful in promoting a harmonious reintroduction.

Take a walk. If appropriate, take the dogs for a walk together. The distraction of doing a normal activity together on neutral territory can help re-establish their familiarity with each other. Ideally, each dog should be walked by a different person.

It’s a party! Cats can be distracted with a play session or special meal for each cat at a distance from each other. Dogs can be distracted by asking for known cues or tricks and reinforcing those with small treats.

The three-second rule. It is normal for your other pets to want to smell the returning pet, who is bringing back unique odors. Prolonged sniffing (just like hugging your teenage son too long) can make your pet uncomfortable. Introduce and enforce the three-second rule. If sniffing last for more than three seconds, calmly get your pets’ attention by gently clapping your hands or saying their names in an upbeat tone. Keep it calm and avoid creating tension. Call them away to get a toy or follow you to the treat jar.

If you notice excessive interest in the returning pet or body language indicators of fear, anxiety, or stress, such as freezing, walking slowly, hiding, lifted lip, growling, or hissing, to name just a few, separate your pets and work on a more gradual introduction.

Follow these tips and you will be back to normal before you know it. How quickly the reintroduction takes depends on the individual animals and the circumstances. Some pets take just a few minutes to resume a normal relationship. Others might take hours or even a day or two to put out the welcome mat

If you are having trouble with reintroductions, ask your Fear Free veterinarian to recommend someone who can assist you.