Fear Free Success Stories: Finding Ways to Help

Kim Campbell Thornton

For Fear Free Certified veterinary professionals, job one is reducing fear, anxiety, and stress during visits and procedures. Here are three successful approaches to making the veterinary clinic a safe and happy space for pets!

Slaying Fiona’s Fear

When Fiona first came to us at Gamble Pet Clinic, an examination without a fearful reaction from her was impossible. An attack by another dog at a young age had caused her to be anxious and nervous ever since. She had been muzzled at every veterinary clinic since her attack until coming to Gamble Pet Clinic. She was fearful initially, trying to nip at the doctor and staff when they attempted to examine her.

We began working with Fiona in an Elizabethan collar. When a pet is appropriately acclimated to it, an Elizabethan collar can be a great alternative to a muzzle because it allows the dog’s head, nose, and mouth to move naturally and easily while providing a barrier that keeps the patient and staff safe and comfortable. If used appropriately and only in a positive manner from the start, it can be a great tool for Fear Free work on anxious or stressed patients like Fiona. In this way, Dr. Gamble is able to examine Fiona while she is distracted by treats like cheese and pretzel sticks. Both Dr. Gamble and Samantha, her assistant, are Fear Free Certified, making the whole process go smoothly.

Fiona’s Fear Free journey continued with regular Victory Visits to the clinic where everyone worked slowly and calmly with her to get her used to the environment and build her trust. Gradually, her anxiety about coming to the clinic decreased and she started to see it as a positive experience, looking forward to the treats and trusting the doctor enough to begin letting her touch and examine her. Every time she comes in, we use Fear Free techniques that build on the foundation we have laid. Fiona is still working on her Fear Free process and we are working to gain her full trust. We are so proud of the amazing strides she has made with us so far in the Fear Free setting!

Emily Andrade, CVA, Fear Free Level 3 Certified, Gamble Pet Clinic, Fort Collins, Colorado


Networking News

I took the Fear Free course. It was interesting and useful. I’m now working with two local veterinary offices who found me through the Fear Free website.

Getting the Fear Free certificate increased business this year more than any other marketing I’ve done. It seems that more veterinarians in my area are implementing Fear Free concepts in their practices and seeking trainers to partner with.

Delores Carter, MA, KPA CTP, UW-AAB, The Learning Dog Academy, Brighton, Michigan

A Blood Draw for Sal

Sal was brought to us to establish why he had been having chronic vomiting and diarrhea. When I approached him in the lobby, he immediately pinned his ears and retreated under the couch. We brought him into an exam room, and he warmed up a bit but was still wary. Mom and Dad mentioned that in the past at other clinics he was taken to “the back” for vaccines and they could hear him vocalizing from the exam room.

We needed to sedate him to further work up his history of vomiting and diarrhea. Since this would take a while, Mom and Dad went out for lunch and we kept Sal in our treatment area, where he became noticeably more anxious with the absence of his family. We used desensitization and counterconditioning techniques with small pieces of Braunschweiger and he eventually did not even notice when he was being touched along his epaxial muscles. He did not vocalize or notice whatsoever when we gave him his IM sedation. His abdominal ultrasound was normal, which was great for him but meant that we needed to further work up his symptoms. The veterinarian on the case recommended that he come in for an ACTH stimulation test.

The technician working with him mentioned that we needed to provide Sal with some pre-visit medications so it would be less stressful for him. This specific test measures cortisol and if Sal was stressed it could affect the test results. The veterinarian consulted our behavior department about what medications he could come in on that would not affect the test results.

Because Sal vomited during a trial of Trazodone at home, he came in on gabapentin alone. Because this didn’t go well, we called it a day and decided to attempt a different medication combination. The next time Sal received gabapentin, Trazodone, and Cerenia 30 minutes prior to the appointment time. This time when we entered the room, Sal was significantly sleepier and more relaxed. We offered him chicken baby food and he loved it. We placed him on the table, Mom and Dad talked to him and fed him while one technician occluded his vein, and the other technician performed the blood draw and administered the medication. Sal ate chicken baby food throughout the entire process. Then Mom and Dad waited patiently in the exam room with Sal until it was time to draw the 1-hour post sample. We repeated the same process. Sal was a rock star and ate throughout the blood draw. Now we have a set protocol for when he comes in for workups or annual visits, and he stays with mom and dad for any procedure possible.

Maria Marano, RVT, Fear Free Certified, Community Practice, The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center, Columbus, Ohio

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Kim Campbell Thornton is content manager for Fear Free Pets and is a Level 3 Fear Free Certified Professional. She has been writing about dogs, cats, wildlife, and marine life since 1985.

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