Have you Heard of the Fear Free Initiative?

Fear Free is changing the way veterinary professionals approach scared, stressed, or anxious pets during medical exams and making the overall experience a more positive one for the pet.

I discuss the use of Fear Free techniques with Dr. Brittany Lancellotti, DVM, Dip ACVD, on episode 40 of The Derm Vet Podcast. As two Fear Free certified veterinary dermatologists AND vet moms, we had a lot to talk about!

Why is Fear Free so Important in Dermatology?

You rarely hear about a derm case that is a one-and-done visit. Derm issues tend to be chronic, so that recheck visit is NOT going away. The last thing you want is an owner discouraged from bringing their pet who is in need of medical care back in for a visit due to their stress level. It shouldn’t have to be an internal struggle of:

Derm Management vs. Stress

When we use Fear Free techniques, we can hopefully get to a place where the patient likes, or at least tolerates, visits and therefore receives the care that they need.

There are a few different viewpoints to explore when talking about Fear Free practice.

First, let’s look at the patient:

Stressful experiences = releasing cortisol. High cortisol levels can be damaging to the body. Cortisol can cause an increase in glucose levels, heightened blood pressure readings, stress colitis… the list goes on! This can affect the accuracy of your medical examination, as well as create negative associations for the patient that will have an effect on future visits.

When looking specifically at dermatology, Fear Free techniques can have a major impact on the overall treatment plan for the client. If we cannot perform otoscopy or take cytology because of the temperament of the patient during the visit, we won’t have an accurate depiction of what we are dealing with and what needs to be addressed. We DON’T want our patients left undiagnosed because of anxiety or fear.

What About From the Veterinarian’s Viewpoint?

It’s absolutely true that Fear Free changes the way the veterinarian practices, but how?

Veterinary practice is, in general, overwhelming. Especially these days! The veterinary medicine profession is losing amazing technicians due to burnout and physical injury. Now, imagine a world where most pets are relaxed and happy during their visit, therefore making the job of the staff and veterinarian a little bit easier. There are ultimately fewer injuries, less stressful scenarios to burn out our staff, and everyone, patient included, is at ease. THAT is what the Fear Free initiative can bring to the table.

The amazing thing about Fear Free is that it doesn’t have to be complicated. There are really easy, manageable things you can change within your day to day that will improve the mentality of how you practice. For example:

  • Review previous medical records for notes about temperament before a visit so you can address those concerns in advance.
  • Communicate with your client! If they reveal, their pet gets car sick post-visit, note that for next time and offer a solution to improve the pet’s experience.
  • Have your client desensitize their pet to a muzzle (they’re not negative training tools!).
  • Find out what your patient’s favorite type of treat is pre-visit. Note it in their medical chart. Have your clients bring their pets in hungry!
  • Use music therapy on the car ride into the visit.

This is just a short list of some of the Fear Free techniques that can have a BIG impact. The Fear Free certification course is an amazing investment because of the ongoing resources and support it offers to veterinary staff as we continue to learn and implement these techniques into our everyday.

Take a listen to episode 41 of The Derm Vet Podcast for more information on Fear Free and some amazing tips from my Fear Free guest expert, Dr. Brittany Lancellotti, DVM, Dip ACVD from Animal Dermatology Clinic in Pasadena, CA. Your patients deserve the very best care, and using Fear Free is one way to give them that!