August 02, 2016

The Fear Free Initiative: Happy Pets Are Just Good Business

Implementing Fear Free SM strategies may not only reduce the patient’s stress–a noble pursuit in its own right—but will demonstrate to the client that you sympathize with their pet’s feelings. Subsequently, you will gain a more loyal client who is less hesitant to bring in their pet for a visit.
By Meredith Rogers, MS, CMPP

TRAIN ALL STAFF TO RECOGNIZE AND ADDRESS FEAR

  • Ask the client about their pet’s level of stress; they are the experts in identifying fear in their own animal
  • Allow the animal to approach the staff, and avoid direct eye contact
  • Offer treats almost continuously, especially to distressed animals
  • Do not be afraid to suggest rescheduling the appointment if the animal is overly stressed 

MANAGE THE RECEPTION AREA

  • Create dog- and cat-only zones
  • Minimize wait times
  • Place scales away from other waiting patients 

ADMINISTER ANTI-ANXIETY AND PAIN MEDICATIONS

  • Sedate the animal instead of using forceful restraint
  • Use topical lidocaine for blood draws and other semi-invasive procedures 

EDUCATE CLIENTS ON HOW TO PREPARE THEIR PET FOR THE VISIT

  • Request that clients bring pets when they’re hungry so they’re more receptive to treats
  • For cats and small dogs, instruct clients on the appropriate carrier for their pet, and provide instructions on training their pet to tolerate the carrier
  • For larger dogs, suggest the client bring their pet to the clinic, outside of appointment times, to help the pet get familiar with the unique environment 
Implementing some of these strategies may not only reduce the patient’s stress–a noble pursuit in its own right— but will demonstrate to the client that you sympathize with their pet’s feelings. Subsequently, you will gain a more loyal client who is less hesitant to bring in their pet for a visit.
 
Dr. Jonathan Bloom, DVM, medical director of the Willowdale Animal Hospital in Toronto, Canada, has found that since adopting Fear FreeSM methodology, his practice has gained clients and he has even seen an increase in visits, while other veterinary practices have not. He believes that by creating a Fear FreeSM environment, you eliminate one of the greatest barriers clients face when deciding whether or not to bring their pet into the clinic, an animal that does not want to go. Furthermore, becoming Fear Free may help with employee retention. As Deborah Breitstein, DVM, who has employed Fear FreeSM practices since opening Animal Health Care of Marlboro, in Englishtown, New Jersey, in 1992, stated, “If the animals are not stressed, then the clients are not stressed, and the employees are not stressed.” Dr. Bloom adds that “staff morale has never been higher, staff has never been happier and never more engaged,” since embracing the Fear FreeSM Initiative.
 
If you are interested in joining the Fear FreeSM Initiative, the American Animal Hospital Association, in conjunction with the North American Veterinary Community (NAVC), has been offering Fear FreeSM Certification since April 2016. Applicants will need to complete an 8-module online course through the VetFolio platform (www.vetfolio.com) and take an exam after each module. A veterinarian will be able to call their practice Fear FreeSM Certified when a minimum of two staff members have successfully completed the program. The certification will last for a period of 3 years. If you would like to learn more, an introductory course on Fear FreeSM veterinary visits, by Dr. Marty Becker, is currently available on VetFolio for 1 Continuing Education credit.
 
Meredith Rogers has a bachelor of science degree in animal health from the University of Connecticut and a master of science degree in microbiology and molecular genetics from Rutgers University/UMDNJ. She received certification as a Medical Publication Professional from the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals in 2013 and has more than 19 of years experience creating medical, veterinary, and scientific content for a variety of healthcare audiences, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, veterinarians, and patients. She lives in Kingston, New Jersey and shares her life with a horse, a dog, and a cat, so animal health is always a top priority and a passion for her.

REFERENCES
  1. Quimby JM, Smith ML, Lunn KF. Evaluation of the effects of hospital visit stress on physiologic parameters in the cat. J Feline Med Surg. 2011; 13(10):733-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jfms. 2011.07.003.
  2. Bragg RF, Bennett JS, Cummings A, Quimby JM. Evaluation of the effects of hospital visit stress on physiologic parameters in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2015;246(2):212-5. doi: 10.2460/ javma.246.2.212.
  3. Spinks I. Bayer veterinary care usage study III: feline findings 2011. Bayer DVM website. www.bayerdvm.com/Admin/f i l e . a s p x / downloadfile/54001665. Accessed January 29, 2016.


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