Have you ever felt that you are about to die? I mean that literally—like you’ve been held up at gun point? Increasingly, veterinary behaviorists and certified animal behavior consultants agree that many of our pets feel they are being held up at gun point when visiting the veterinarian, and many feel the same way at the groomer or even with the dog trainer. The flight or fight response may kick in for many. They aren’t being “mean cats” or “bad dogs,” they’re just terrified.
Some individuals just freeze—and sometimes pet caretakers and veterinary staff or groomers don’t recognize how terrified they really are. Shelter animals may be calm but might also be frozen with fear. Moreover, when the pet gets upset, pet caretakers get upset. And when the pet parents feel anxious, their pets know it so they become even more alarmed. The anxiety level grows like a snowball. All of this isn’t in the best interest of anyone—especially our pets.
A few years back when my friend Dr. Marty Becker told me about his idea to remove the fear from vet visits with an initiative called Fear Free; I was all about it. I knew the data. Nearly a third (28%) of dog owners say going to the veterinarian is stressful, and 38% suggest their dog feels stressed out, according to the Bayer Usage Veterinary Care Studies, and other data. Over a third (38%) of cat owners call vet visits stressful, and nearly 60% suggest their cat is totally stressed out at the vet office.
The Bayer studies (and others) suggest a significant percent of pet owners have stopped going to the veterinarian all together for various reasons—from costs to not understanding the importance of checkups, and because of the expectation of their pet’s discomfort.
No veterinarian or technician/nurse I have ever met has made the significant sacrifices and investment of dollars and time for schooling to make pets feel terrified. Of course doctors and nurses want to help, not hurt. I realize, and I celebrate the millions of pets who enjoy the veterinary visit. And I suggest they get a better exam than a fractious cat or an aggressive dog as a result. However, these contented pets are decidedly in a minority.
Certainly, lucky dogs and also cats who see a veterinarian for preventive care live longer than those who do not. Even the best veterinarians can’t diagnose pets they don’t see. Just over 80% of cats see a veterinarian in their first year of ownership. While that sounds impressive, that means millions of cats don’t receive any medical care, even in that first year. Far more problematic, the majority of cats don’t see a veterinarian after that unless they become so ill that there is no other choice, or the cat gets hit by a car or another trauma occurs.
Fear Free promotes considerate approach and gentle control techniques used in calming environments. Utilization of Fear Free methods and protocols leads to reduction or removal of anxiety triggers, which creates an experience that is rewarding and safer for all involved, including pets, their owners, and veterinary health care teams. The same goes for groomers and shelter staff.
We can adjust pets’ emotional barometers—moving from frightened to fun—and if not fun, at least reasonable acceptance. Individual veterinary professionals and veterinary practices are becoming certified as Fear Free all over America. In addition, shelters can be certified Fear Free (at no cost), as well as pet groomers, professional trainers and animal behavior consultants. The movement is transformative, and potentially lifesaving.
Dogs and cats share about the same hard–wiring for emotions in their brains as we do. While they may not comprehend what their emotions mean in the same way that we do—they do feel emotions about the same as we do. None of us would want to feel like we are about to die, and it’s unfair to put our pets through that—not to mention that their health can suffer as a result.
Fear Free is freeing pets of fear, anxiety and stress. How can that be bad? Clearly it’s worth the effort to become certified as Fear Free. And you can also recommend the client–facing website, www.fearfreehappyhomes.com. Unlike so much misinformation on the web which veterinary professionals are subjected to daily, this content is vetted by veterinary behaviorists, and veterinary technicians certified in behavior. There are also some good deals for pet product purchases for clients on this site—and who doesn’t like a good deal?
Learn more about all of this at www.fearfreepets.com. +