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What Is a Fear Free Certified Animal Hospital?

What Is a Fear Free Certified Animal Hospital?

Fear Free is a series of training protocols for veterinary professionals, trainers, and pet owners on the reduction of fear, anxiety, and stress in pets. Our Brooklyn vets explain the philosophy of a Fear-Free certified animal hospital and what it means for you and your pet.

Fear-Free Practice Certification

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 Fear-Free protocols are implemented, there is an onsite visit and inspection by a Fear-Free veterinarian before certification. Each year the hospital has to be reviewed before being renewed.  

A Fear-Free Animal Hospital

A Fear-Free certified Hospital is dedicated to decreasing stress, anxiety, and fear in our patients while offering the best medical care possible.

Small things such as offering treats, KONGS, mats, hiding spaces, allowing cats to stay in their carriers or dogs in their family's lap, pre-visit medications, and changes in handling techniques, and larger factors like the design of the practice to include separate cat and dog areas have made a huge difference in the delivery of patient care.

How to Implement Fear-Free Practices

At a Fear-Free certified veterinary clinic, the Fear-Free approach extends throughout the entire hospital and is prioritized second only to the medical care of our patients. The team will work with the patients and their people to undertake the following steps before and during each appointment.

  • Good Communication Between Pets & People

    They start by understanding and identifying how pets communicate signs of stress to them.

    These signs can include several subtle and obvious signals, from a tense expression or dilated pupils to growling, hissing, or a tucked tail to name a few.

    The team will also discuss the pet's known stressors with the owner, which can include sounds, scents, discomfort, disease processes, and unfamiliar people.

    Getting to know their canine and feline clients, and understanding what stresses them out, and how they communicate that stress, helps the team better manage it during their visits.

    Usually, the team will ask the family to speak up if there is something that causes fear, stress or anxiety.

  • Planning Ahead

    An anxiety-free veterinary appointment starts at home. Let them know if your pet gets stressed going to the vet. The team 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 your vet know if your pet gets stressed coming into the lobby or with new people or other animals. They can have you wait in the car or at our outside waiting area then come directly into the exam room.

    Let the team 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. Keep the drive to the vet low-stress with calm music or silence and by avoiding hard stops or starts.

    Bring their favorite treats or toys to the visit.

  • A Calm, Quiet Environment

    At the veterinary office, they do their 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, the 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.

    They have treats throughout the hospital. If your cat or dog is on a special diet, it's encouraged to bring their treats or food with you to the visit.

  • Sedation & Restraint Options

    The staff is trained in low-stress handling techniques and a considerate approach. They 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, they will reschedule a procedure if the pet is stressed. This allows them to send home medications before performing the procedures.

    If restraint is required during a procedure, the 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 before an appointment

  • Fear-Free Overnight Stays

    The veterinary team has guidelines in place to minimize stress during overnight stays.

    They work to minimize smells and loud noises, and they place calming pheromone diffusers around the hospital.

    They 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 they need to move your pet around in the 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 in the hospital to reduce stress during the stay.

Interested in learning more about Fear Free? Contact our Brooklyn vets for more information.

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