Is Your Pet Afraid of Going to the Vet? Fear-Free Vet Clinics Help Alleviate Its Fear and Stress
Thu, February 2, 2023

Is Your Pet Afraid of Going to the Vet? Fear-Free Vet Clinics Help Alleviate Its Fear and Stress


Most of us do not like to visit the doctor, and the same goes for our pets. Pets can’t verbally express when they are sick, and those who are anxious, fearful, or have a history of fear of being in a veterinary clinic can be more difficult to take care of.

Unfortunately, fear can be detrimental to a pet’s health. For instance, you can’t bring your dog or cat for an annual checkup if you know that it is afraid of going to the vet’s office. But don’t worry, fear-free veterinary practice is starting to gain traction in veterinary medicine. Fear-free practices involve tools and behavioral tactics to ease your pet’s anxiety, making trips to the vet easier and less stressful.

Do Fear-Free Practices Aid In Growth?

Fear Free Pets, whose mission is to prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety, and stress in pets, partnered with data and analytics company VetSuccess to assess 20 veterinary practices in the US and Canada, said founder and CEO of Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting Louise S. Dunn. The respondents were found to treat canines (70%) and felines (27%). Only 3% treated other animals.

The study showed that employing Fear Free tools and techniques can make a difference in patient visits. For example, the average number of visits per patient before using Fear Free tools was 3.96 compared to 4.04 visits in the “after” period. There was also a 2.2% increase in exams per patient, with 85.05% for the “before” period” and 85.52% in the “after” period.

Overall, there was a 0.9% increase in patients with multiple visits (67.76% in the “before” period and 68.36% in the “after” period) and a 3% spike in progress exams (4.62% and 4.77%). Interestingly, feline visits revealed a 3.5% and 1.3% increase in progress exams (3.92% and 4.06%) and multiple visits (58.34% and 59.10%), respectively.

In the “before” period, feline patient share was at 27.39%, slightly increasing to 27.42% in the “after” period. On the other hand, feline revenue share was only at 19.55% in the “before” period. But it decreased to 19.35% in the “after” period. Regarding the year on year change in patient visits, benchmark practices were at 4.6% in 2017, with fear-free practices at 7.1%. In 2018, the percentages of benchmark and fear-free practices declined to 2.4% and 7.7%, respectively.  

Likewise, the year on year change in recurring patient visits for benchmark and fear-free practices were at 9.9% and 13.8% in 2017, respectively. The following year, benchmark practices were at 3.5% while fear-free declined to 8.5%. Regarding the year on year change in revenue vaccines, the numbers were at 10.2% and 9.7% for benchmark practices and fear-free techniques, respectively in 2017. In 2018, fear-free techniques soared to 14.8%, overshadowing benchmark practices (5.7%).

The findings revealed that adopting and implementing fear-free techniques and practices helps drive growth. Veterinary teams are happier at work, but their clients and new potential clients are glad that their pet’s emotional wellbeing is taken into consideration, said the report.  



What Is Fear-Free?

First instituted by Dr. Marty Becker, fear-free practices in veterinary hospitals or clinics have been widely accepted all over the US and Canada. In a fear-free veterinary clinic or hospital, the veterinarians, support staff, and technicians practice fear-free techniques. Fear-free practitioners have taken extra behavioral and fear-free practice training or certification to help fearful pets. These professionals have undertaken specific training beyond their veterinary or technical training to become the most “fear-free and behaviorally-attuned practitioners.”



What Are the Benefits of a Fear-Free Environment?

Pets who are sensitive to stimuli such as the veterinarian themselves, noise phobias, and restrains can benefit from going to a fear-free clinic. Fear free techniques aim to reduce your pet’s stress before and after walking into your vet’s office.  

Your veterinarian may recommend not feeding your pet prior to the appointment so that your dog or cat will readily consume the treats your veterinarian or their staff will provide. Your veterinarian may also use calm and quiet rooms while utilizing their staff members to cater to your pet’s needs. Another benefit of going to a fear-free clinic is your pet may have a personalized behavioral and care program that will alleviate stress.

How Can Veterinarians Help Adopt Fear-Free Practices?

Veterinarians can complete the Fear Free Certification Program that tackles the initiative and demonstrates how each staff can create a relaxing and positive environment for pets, explained Amanda Carrozza of American Veterinarian, a provider of news and expert commentary on research to enhance patient outcomes and impact veterinary practices.

Even without the program, veterinarians can incorporate a number of fear-free techniques into their practice. For example, veterinarians can use slip-free surfaces like blankets or rubber mats but they also have to be open to using other locations such as the floor or the owner’s lap.

Sometimes a pet may have to be removed from the exam room. Julie Shaw, RVT, VTS (Behavior), owner and director of Stepping Stone Animal Training, worked with a young dog that was too scared to be touched. After spending some time with the dog, a colleague suggested taking the young dog outside, making the canine happier and more receptive to examinations.

Veterinarians should also include owners in their fear-free initiatives. For instance, if your pet reacts negatively to a carrier, you should help it become familiar with the carrier at home. Your veterinarian should instruct you to leave the carrier out regularly to help your pet become comfortable around it. That way, your pet will not associate it with frightening experiences.

Your veterinarian may also suggest spraying pheromones on a towel and placing it inside the carrier with the pet while going to the clinic. They may also discuss with you about the signs of pet anxiety such as excessive licking, tension, or tucked tail and how you can detect them early.

It is recommended to consult a fear-free veterinary hospital or clinic during checkups, but owners should do their part to alleviate their pet’s fear of veterinary visits. Expect your veterinarian to work with you to help alleviate your pet’s stress and fear.