The Fear Free series of training protocols helps veterinary professionals, trainers and pet owners reduce stress, fear and anxiety in pets. Our vets in Jacksonville explain what this certification means.
Fear Free Practice Certification
To become a Fear Free Certified Practice, an animal hospital must meet 27 mandatory standards and earn a minimum of 1,070 points out of a possible 2,060 from another 28 standards. After Fear Free protocols are implemented, a Fear Free veterinarian will visit and inspect the site before the hospital is certified. Each year, the hospital must be reviewed before the certification is renewed.
Fear Free Practice Certification requires the practice to meet 27 mandatory standards and earn a minimum of 1,070 points out of a possible 2,060 from another 28 standards. After creating and implementing Fear Free protocols there is an onsite visit and inspection by a Fear Free Veterinarian before certification. The hospital has to be reviewed annually before certification is renewed.
Our Fear Free Animal Hospital
Our team at Pet Doctors of America is dedicated to decreasing fear, anxiety and stress in our patients while offering the best possible medical care.
You may have noticed that small and large changes have taken place around both of our hospitals that have led to us earning Fear-Free Practice certification. Small things such as offering hiding spaces, treats, mats and KONGS, allowing cats to remain in their carriers or dogs in their family member's lap, changing our handling techniques, and providing pre-visit medications are among them. There have also been some more noticeable changes, including designing the layout of the buildings to allow for separate areas for dogs and cats. These changes have made a huge difference in our delivery of patient care.
We have worked very hard not only on becoming Fear-Free certified but also on implementing and practicing low-stress and Fear-Free techniques when working with our patients.
How We Implement Fear-Free
At our veterinary clinic, the Fear Free approach extends throughout both of our hospitals and is prioritized second only to the medical care of our patients. We work with our patients and their people to undertake the following steps before and during each appointment.
- Good Communication Between Pets & People
We start by understanding and identifying how pets communicate signs of stress to us.
These signs can include a number of subtle and obvious signals, from a tense expression or dilated pupils to growling, hissing, or a tucked tail to name a few.
We also discuss the pet's known stressors with the owner, which can include sounds, scents, discomfort, disease processes, and unfamiliar people.
Getting to know our canine and feline clients, and understanding what stresses them out, and how they communicate that stress, helps us better manage it during their visits.
We ask the family to speak up if there is something that causes fear, anxiety or stress (FAS) let us know. We can help!
- Planning Ahead
An anxiety-free veterinary appointment starts at home. Let us know if your pet gets stressed going to the vet. We can offer suggestions to do at home before the visit. There may be options to send supplements or medication home before the visit to help with car sickness or to help decrease the level of stress at the vet.
Let us know if you pet gets stressed coming into the lobby or with new people or other animals. We can have you wait in the car or in our outside waiting area then come directly into the exam room. We have several entrances to help.
Let us know if your pet does better with male or female vets.
Cats and small- to medium-sized dogs should be acclimated to their carriers. This can be accomplished by leaving the carrier out in an area of the home where the pet likes to be. Place a towel over the top of the carrier to help create a safe place with familiar scents.
The carrier should be outfitted with toys, soft, comfortable bedding or a non-slip mat, and should have a top-off option to make it more accessible.
You can also spray cat or dog pheromones, either in the carrier or onto a bandana for larger dogs.
If transporting a medium to large dog, be sure to use an approved restraint device in the car. The drive should to the vet can be kept low stress by avoiding hard stops or starts and with calm music or silence.
Bring their favorite treats or toys to the visit.
- A Calm, Quiet Environment
At our veterinary office, we do our best to keep the atmosphere calm and quiet.
To help reduce your pet's stress in the waiting area, keep cats and dogs separate as much as possible. Cat carriers should be kept elevated off of the floor on a sturdy table or chair. Keep your dog leashed and close to your side to minimize interaction with other waiting pets.
During the appointment, our veterinary team will remain calm, speak in quiet voices and approach the pet in a slow, careful manner, as dogs and cats are often sensitive to loud noises and quick movements.
- Treats & Toys
To encourage a positive experience and decreased fear, stress, and anxiety during the visit, rewards such as treats, toys, or petting/brushing can be used during an exam or when obtaining diagnostics as long as it is not contraindicated based on why the pet is at the hospital.
We have treats throughout the hospital. If your cat or dog is on a special diet, we encourage you to bring their treats or food with you to the visit.
- Sedation & Restraint Options
Our staff is trained in low-stress handling techniques and considerate approach. We use treats, petting, and toys as distractions. Families are allowed to be with their pets during procedures (excluding sedation, anesthesia, X-rays, and while the hospital is closed). The staff will direct families on how they can play a part in their pet's treatment resulting in lower stress for your pet and keeping staff and family safe during the procedure.
In some cases, we will reschedule a procedure if the pet is stressed. This allows us to send home medications before performing the procedures.
If restraint is required during a procedure, our trained staff may use a towel wrap, a muzzle, or an Elizabethan collar to ensure the patient is safe and comfortable during the process. A mild sedative may be recommended to make sure that the procedure can be performed safely and less stressful for the patient.
If you already know that your pet experiences anxiety or stress when visiting the vet, it may be beneficial for the veterinarian to provide you with a mild sedative to give to your pet at home prior to an appointment.
- Fear Free Overnight Stays
Our veterinary team has guidelines in place to minimize stress during overnight stays.
We work to minimize smells and loud noises, and we place calming pheromone diffusers around our hospitals.
We also sometimes use soft music or white noise machines to interfere with any sudden noises. Lights are kept low, and pets are given soft bedding and places to hide to make them more comfortable.
If we need to move your pet around in a hospital, for an exam, a procedure, or a walk outside, it is done slowly and calmly, avoiding interactions with other patients. Mild sedatives or anti-anxiety medications may be used to reduce stress during the stay.