A New Day for Pets: Fear Free and Cat Friendly


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I believe many pets at veterinary offices think they are going to die.

Imagine being hung half way out a window by your suspenders 40 stories up, or being held up at gunpoint. That’s actually how I believe many of our pets feel.

Yet, everyone, from pet caretakers and veterinary professionals, have pretty much accepted the status quo forever. Pet owners expect their pets to “hate” the veterinarian.

Pet expert Steve Dale writes about Fear Free and Cat Friendly veterinary visitsIn 2017 it’s my resolution to communicate how we can do better, as I am a part of two initiatives in veterinary medicine which are succeeding at shifting the paradigm within the ranks of the profession. My job is communicating to all of you how we can all make a difference as pet caretakers – and ultimately the outcome is that our pets receive better pet health care. And the upshot is that we will also save money.Pet expert Steve Dale writes about Fear Free and Cat Friendly practices

If the pet is anxious, the pets’ owners, and the veterinary staff will be anxiety ridden too. And that anxiety grows like a snowball. Often anxiety isn’t the word for it – lots of pets are so petrified they likely do fear for their lives.

According to the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Studies (Bayer Animal Health/Brakke Consulting), 38 percent of pet owners suggest their dog HATES going to the veterinarian, 58 percent report their cat HATES visiting the veterinarian.Pet expert Steve Dale writes about Fear Free and Cat Friendly veterinary visits

Think about yourself; if you’ve a bad shopping experience at a department store, you’ll likely be stressed out even thinking about the place, and you’re not likely return. The same is true for pet owners. According to the Bayer/Brakke studies, 28 percent of dog owners say just thinking about a veterinary visit is stressful, and nearly 40 percent of cat owners agree.

I suspect those numbers would be significantly higher if we could ask the pets how they feel about the return visit.

Pet expert Steve Dale writes about Fear Free and Cat Friendly practicesI conducted a simple YouTube search of videos of pets fearful of visiting the veterinarian, and there were hundreds. In each instance that I clicked on the play button, pet owners considered it all a funny joke, or at least to be expected that their pets would be afraid, even terrified, of their doctor and nurses. The Fear Free and Cat Friendly Practice initiatives are set to change these expectations. 

Instead, by years’ end, I hope to see a balance of YouTube videos with home movies of cats head-butting contentedly on the vet exam table, and dogs taking cookies with a vaccine like we do cream with our coffee.

Lots of us have been out there talking about ways to reduce fear, anxiety and stress of vet visits for years. Dr. Marty Becker has combined many of our ideas and approaches into an imitative, more really like a crusade, called Fear Free. The idea is to support and promote considerate approach and gentle control techniques used in calming environments at veterinary offices. And it’s absolutely catching on.

And talk about having courage of a lion – the American Association of Feline Practitioners has essentially said, it’s on us veterinary professionals to do better for cats. We need to make some real cat friendlier changes, called Cat Friendly Practice.Pet expert Steve Dale writes about Fear Free and Cat Friendly practices

As much as I support and admire these efforts, I don’t know how veterinary professionals can do this alone, which brings me to my second resolution. I believe that both initiatives, Fear Free and Cat Friendly Practice, begin in homes. And I resolve to communicate directly to pet caretakers on the significant difference you can make for your pets this year into 2018.

First. When pets enter the vet clinic totally terrified, shaking like a leaf, dogs panting without being able to catch their breath, cats seemingly screaming for help, no matter how Cat Friendly or Fear Free the office is – short of medication (which may be the right thing to do at that point), or sending the pet back home – there’s no way to relax the animal at that point, as the adrenaline and cortisol levels are spiraling out of control.  That’s why having pets walk in the door without feeling fear, anxiety or stress is so important. And that effort begins a home with pet caretakers, who are a part of medical team.

Indeed pets – like people – are emotional beings, and emotional health intersects with medical health.

Some say, “Pet owners are too lazy to bother to participate.” I completely disagree. The overwhelming majority of pet caretakers consider their pets members of the family; they care, and they want to do what’s best for them.

Fear Free and Cat Friendly are both incredibly exciting initiatives which will change the way we feel about veterinary care, and most importantly the way our pets feel.

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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