For Dr. Alicia McLaughlin, a key component of Fear Free success with her exotic-animal patients is to encourage clients to prioritize preparation for visits. She educates them on measures they can take at home to increase their pet’s comfort with care and encourages Fear Free fun visits to the hospital. In this way, she lays a calm, positive foundation for animals during care. Pets with mild concerns experience increased comfort and cooperation as trust is established.
In an ideal world, McLaughlin would provide a Fear Free foundation for her patients from the start. When she’s able to do so, Dr. Laughlin starts by accustoming the animal slowly to aspects of care, pairing these experiences with treats. At the same time, she teaches clients proper treat delivery and handling guidelines so they can practice at home and help prepare their pet for future care. Patients with already established FAS at the vet also benefit from conditioning to increase their comfort with handling at the veterinary clinic.
A major benefit for her patients on wellness plans is scheduling at least two Fear Free fun visits a year to positively condition the animal to care. During these practice visits, the animals come in for the equivalent of a treat party, taking treats from members of the staff to increase their tolerance to new people. Nothing stressful or coercive takes place. Instead, the animal is slowly desensitized to aspects of the clinic and the staff may work on developing some tricks to have a foundation for working with the pet during future visits.
The takeaway? Never underestimate the power of having a good time! Fun, positive experiences at home and at the hospital are a powerful force in helping to decrease the fear, anxiety, and stress animals experience during care and increase their happy participation.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.