What does it mean to practice Fear Free medicine?
Fear Free veterinary medicine is an approach to practicing medicine that adheres to a set of principles and techniques, rooted in our advanced scientific understanding of animal behavior and psychology, which places the emotional welfare of our patients as a priority above all else except for life-saving procedures.
Why is it important to practice Fear Free Medicine?
Adhering to the principles of Fear Free medicine is important because animals, just like humans, experience deep emotional states that govern or influence their behaviors, perceptions and interpretation of events, and even their core physiology. Fear, anxiety, and stress during a veterinary appointment cause the body to secrete adrenaline and cortisone, which in the immediate period lead to an increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and faster breathing, and generally unpleasant sensations and experiences. Animals that are fearful are also more likely to respond with either aggression or a state of “learned helplessness,” also known as being frozen in fear. Both states lead to the masking of symptoms and make it harder to extract useful information from a physical exam. Chronic stress and anxiety result in fewer perceived rewards or positive emotional experiences over time as well as contribute to suppression of the immune system, higher incidences of infection and illness, slower and more complicated healing times after surgery, elevated blood sugar, and weight gain with all its inherent consequences for the pet’s general wellbeing and health.
Historically, veterinarians and pet owners have been less attuned to the psychological states of our patients and pets because the foundation of scientific knowledge and understanding needed to advocate for this attention were missing. Today, our awareness of animal behavior and it’s direct relationship to the deep emotional wellbeing of pets is far more advanced, and there are few excuses for not making every attempt to prevent and reverse the negative emotional states to which we expose our furry family members when we force and restrain them against their will, scare or punish them (usually unintentionally,) or undertreat their pain and discomfort. “Iatrogenic Injury” means an unintentional injury inflicted on a patient by a medical professional in the course of treating another condition. By adhering to the principles of Fear Free medicine, we minimize iatrogenic behavioral injuries to our patients and are better able to align ourselves with the governing principle of “First, Do No Harm.”
How do we practice Fear Free medicine?
We practice Fear Free medicine by familiarizing ourselves with the science and current knowledge related to animal behavior and psychology, and implementing these in our protocols and hospital design in order to prevent the exacerbation of pre-existing fear and anxiety in patients, as well as instituting treatment plans aimed at avoiding and reversing the triggers that lead to the onset of fear and anxiety surrounding the veterinary appointment.
We utilize techniques and hospital design principles including, but not limited to:
- Slower, gentler, and more patient handling and restraint
- Constant attention to rewarding and triggering positive emotional responses using food and play
- Recommendations on how to best prepare patients for their appointment beginning at home
- Appropriate scheduling for patients that are especially prone to high levels of fear and stress that ensure the hospital will be relatively quiet during their appointment
- Minimization of stimuli known to adversely affect pets’ emotional state
- Training principles such as desensitization and classical reconditioning to reverse negative associations
- Anti-anxiety medication and sedation when necessary
Our goal is to relieve your pet’s anxiety, fear, and stress, so that they enjoy their veterinary visits and so that we are better able to effectively examine them and make appropriate recommendations for their care. We are the experts charged with helping you care for your pet, and we want to make sure your pets are excited and enjoy both their time with us and at home. We will strive to create an environment that is safe and relaxing for them. We want them to be healthy and happy!
Please explore the following links in order to learn more about Fear Free and the importance of paying attention to the emotional well being of pets during veterinary visits: