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This Program Might Have Found A Way To Keep Your Pet Calm At The Vet

on July 26, 2017
Posted in Cats

Many pets dislike going to the veterinarian and tend to display symptoms of fear and anxiety before visits. But while some of these pets can easily recover from their panic as soon as they get home, others become so stressed they end up inflicting serious psychological and physical damage upon themselves.

Just like human beings, dogs and cats are fully capable of allowing stress to make themselves sick, even to the point where their lives are in danger. Veterinarians are often very sympathetic to pet anxiety but their top priority isn’t exactly keeping their patients’ calm.

This is why veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker started the Fear Free pets program in April 2016. The program’s primary goal is to prevent dogs and cats from becoming afraid of the vet by keeping the pet’s stress level as low as possible during visits.

Veterinarians complete an online certification made up of eight modules, each of which is followed by a test. According to NPR, the certification has so far been completed by approximately 8,000 veterinary professionals in the US.

One of them is Lowrey Reynolds, hospital director of the Seaford Veterinary Medical Center in Yorktown, Virginia.

Earlier this summer, two cats were brought in to the center and immediately became extremely stressed, partially because of the amount of dogs in the waiting room.

These cats, Reynolds explained, are referred to as “red zone” cats as opposed to the slightly less stressed “yellow zone” cats or serene “green zone” cats. Red zone cats of the past were often treated with anesthesia at veterinary clinics, solely to help them get through a visit.

“When a cat or dog comes into the clinic, I think of it in human terms as being abducted by aliens,” Reynolds told NPR. “Everything is foreign, nothing makes sense, nothing is natural.”

At Seaford, the visit instead begins with a staff member bringing out two towels that have been sprayed with Feliway, which emits a scent similar to the pheromone cats leave on objects and people when they rub their faces on them. Anything that contains this scent is reportedly perceived as “safe” by cats.

The Seaford staff member draped the towels over the cats’ carriers and watched as their anxious behavior almost instantly melted away. Fear Free veterinary clinics spray entire exam rooms with pheromones in addition to equipment and the staff themselves.

The dog equivalent of Feliway is Adaptil, which emits a scent similar to the pheromone a mother dog leaves after giving birth. If pheromones or sedatives do not work, the animal is sent home with spray pheromones and re-scheduled for another try.

Reynolds noted that the Fear Free program involves numerous techniques the veterinarian shares with pet owners to prepare their pets for upcoming visits. For example, some pet owners are instructed to leave cat carriers outside the house, possibly near food or without the top on.

This makes the carrier seem like a natural, inviting part of the space as opposed to an evil contraption that is directly associated with being poked and prodded by a stranger, a.k.a the vet. The owner of the two aforementioned cats admitted to have never seen her pets’ so calm at the vet.

Dr. Becker believes that by the end of the year, more than 25,000 veterinary professionals and clinic staff will be certified to practice the Fear Free Program. At some point over the next few months, pet owners will have the opportunity to join Fear Free Happy Homes, a membership program dedicated to making animals more comfortable in general.

“We’re going to teach pet owners how to decrease FAS (fear, anxiety, stress) and increase enrichment activities in homes,” he said.

Read also: 5 Things You Can do to Keep your Dog Cool

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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