For most animals, visiting the vet is on par with a human trip to the dentist – or perhaps a torture chamber. Shows of resistance range from howling and shaking to refusing outright to get into the car, which they psychically know is heading toward “That Place.”
But times have changed at Raintree Veterinary Center, which is now a certified Fear Free Clinic. Every member of the staff from the veterinarians to the administrative assistant is trained in techniques to make animals’ visits as comfortable and stress-free as possible.
Changes at the center include calming music, the way staff approach animals and lots of treats. In some cases, anxiety medications are used as well. “It makes everyone’s lives easier,” says licensed veterinary technician Jessica. “We don’t want them to be scared and this way we can do a very thorough exam where we can touch every part of their bodies without getting scratched or bitten.” When treatments like vaccines are necessary, they use the smallest possible needle to minimize discomfort.
Many pet owners will put off veterinary appointments for as long as possible because they are traumatic for all concerned, she notes, and some even forgo visits altogether. “We had one owner who stopped coming in for vaccines because his cat would cry the whole way here,” says Jessica. “Now, while they’re here it’s a better experience. Hopefully the animals will start to learn it’s not a bad place.”
Owners can facilitate the smoother process by giving their pets anti-anxiety medication before they leave the house. “When we’re dealing with something like a nail trim, it makes it so much easier for the dog,” she says. “It’s not worth needing three staff members who have to hold the dog down.”
The staff took seven classes altogether to become certified, with each course covering a different aspect of fear-free medicine. At the end, they were all tested on what they’d learned. “They were all about the way we approach animals and how to help them be more comfortable,” says Jessica. The classes covered a range of common veterinary situations. “The first class was about handling them in different ways and the second was about how animals are conditioned,” she explains. “We learned that things like whipping out the nail trimmers can send them into a panic. We also learned about medications and things we could talk to the owners about doing at home. It’s helped us become more well-rounded.”
The Fear Freesm Initiative was developed by Dr. Marty Becker, a veterinarian aiming to “take the ‘pet’ out of ‘petrified’ by promoting a considerate approach and gentle control techniques used in calming environments, resulting in more pets who are willing to return for veterinary visits. Raintree has been working on their Fear Free certification for two years.
The process started with an animal behaviorist visiting the center. “That jump-started everything,” says Jessica. “The Fear Free Initiative came along after that. As it was, we had to take continuing education classes to keep up our licenses and we decided, as a practice, that this was something we really wanted to do.”
Raintree was one of the first practices in the area to take on the new approach. “We’re still working out some kinks and figuring out what works best for us as a team,” she says. The Fear Free system calls for a separate area for cats and dogs, mats for every table and changing out exam rooms after each use.
Thus far, Raintree’s clients have been receptive. “We’re still educating people about it,” says Jessica. “It takes time to explain the benefits.” However, for people like the cat owner who experienced his first yowl-free car ride to the vet after administering some anti-anxiety medication at home, the rewards become self-evident. “That particular cat usually has a very hard time coming here, but this time he wasn’t loud the entire way in the car,” says Jessica.
On a similar note, a dog who normally arrives muzzled and growling for appointments was able to try new techniques on his most recent visit. “The owner said he was actually happy to be here,” says Raintree Veterinary manager Trisha Jones. “He was really excited to see positive changes in his dog and the technicians were happy, too.”
For pet owners who are on the fence about making an appointment, climb on down and pick up the phone, says Jessica. “If you have a dog or cat with anxiety related to a veterinary visit, give us a call. Our goal with our Fear Free practice is to help pets, catching as many things as we can early on to prevent diseases down the road. We’d love to see your animals in for a preventative visit.”
For more information about Raintree Veterinary Center call 360-532-1900 or visit www.raintreevetcenter.com.