Fear Free and Today’s Veterinary Practices

By Steve Dale

The vast majority of veterinary professionals are very familiar with Fear Free, which was launched in 2016 by Marty Becker, DVM. And increasingly, the public is also recognizing Fear Free.

Fear Free is succeeding – even beyond Dr. Becker’s expectations. He says, “Fear Free takes the pet out of petrified”

Fear Free’s focus is the emotional health and well-being of patients. Karen Overall MA, VMD, PhD, DACVB, CAAB has been saying for years, “Fear is the worst thing a social species could experience, and it causes permanent damage to the brain1.”

Not only is attending to clients’ pets’ emotional well-being the right thing to do, based on what we know today about the correlation between psychological well-being and general wellness, but clients don’t want to see petrified pets. In fact, once common “manhandling” is now simply unacceptable to many millennial and zillennial clients, in particular.

“My generation was often taught – just get the job done, never mind the emotional fallout,” says Becker. “In fact, that wasn’t even a consideration.”

It’s all about perception. If that client believes team members have “manhandled” their cat or if a practice calls in the National Guard to wrestle a dog, it’s all over. Worse than losing a client, the description of the epic battle could be all over the Internet in minutes.

Of course, the quality of an exam is skewed when a patient is terrorized. And there’s a potential that the patient may be injured, not to mention an increased risk of injury to a veterinary team member. Again, as Dr. Becker repeatedly says, “Since today we know better, we must do better.”

So, what’s Fear Free about? Here’s a quick hit list (which doesn’t claim to be comprehensive):

  • Pre-visit pharmacology, whether pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, or pheromones – or a combination and likely paired with behavior modification, to provide pets with the ability to be enter the clinic calmly.
  • The visit is as pet friendly as possible, using distractions such as high value treats, soft music, and willingness to meet the pet emotionally without force; for example examine a cat in the carrier. Using touch gradient (predictability of what’s next) and gentle handling, as examples. Even the architecture of the clinic itself may be adjusted to be more Fear Free.
  • Creating a pet parent conscious environment: Understanding the stress level of clients coincides with the escalating stress level of their pet (and vice versa). Also, today’s pet parents want explanations (for everything) and, as one example, don’t want you disappearing with the pet “in the dreaded BACK” without a reasonable explanation,

This quick hit list doesn’t do Fear Free justice. To be transparent, I’ve been a Fear Free speaker from day one. And one comment I typically get is, “I don’t need this Fear Free thing, I’ve been giving hot dogs for decades.”

“Good for you!” I respond, and then I ramble on for 30 minutes in further detail about how Fear Free is more than hot dogs.

Fear Free is a resounding success, and that’s because it works.

Today, there are over 84,000 Fear Free Certified Professionals in the U.S. and Canada (and many more in over 50 other nations). Also, over 150 practices are Fear Free Certified. What’s more, most veterinary schools encourage or even require Fear Free as a part of their curriculum.

Watching the impact of Fear Free, dog trainers, animal behavior consultants and groomers approached Dr. Becker asking his team to create certifications for their professions, which has happened. And the Fear Free Shelter program launched in 2019.

A 2021 study demonstrates that using Fear Free tools and techniques makes a difference in patient visits. When seeing a Fear Free veterinarian, vet visits increased overall two percent, and 3.5 percent among cats,2,3.

Also, here’s some more data – in a study of 41 Fear Free Certified Practices, several key performance indicators were identified and measured. Fear Free Certified Practices continually improved their own performance after three years of implementing Fear Free4.

  • 14 percent increase in the number of patients per practice
  • 23 percent increase in revenue per practice
  • Eight percent increase in drugs and medications
  • 22 percent increase in vaccines
  • 37 percent increase in booking forward feline patients
  • 44 percent increase in booking forward for canine patients

In 2017, Fear Free Happy Homes (www.fearfreehappyhomes.com) was created, a website for pet parents. With so much misinformation online, this site offers a dependable source of companion animal information with content authored by experts and reviewed by experts (such as Boarded veterinary behaviorists or technicians boarded in behavior), often presented in an entertaining manner.

Fear Free is arguably the most transformational initiative in veterinary medicine since about 100 years back when cars replaced horses as the primary mode of transport. That’s when veterinarians pivoted to treating dogs and cats.

Indeed, emotional well-being matters as today scientists and even the courts acknowledge our pets are sentient beings. But consider emotional well-being on both sides of the exam table. I know of zero veterinary professionals who went into this industry to wrestle pets and to terrorize them. Of course, Fear Free supports job satisfaction as a result, as well as client satisfaction.

REFERENCES

1. Getting to Know a Little More About Fear Free: A Conversation with Marty Becker, DVM; DVM360, August 2, 2016. https:// www.dvm360.com/view/getting-to-know-a- little-more-about-fear-free

2. “The Positive Impact of Free Fear Certification in Veterinary Practices,” Dunn, L, Founder/CEO Snowgoose Veterinary Consulting. 2020. https://fearfreepets.com/ wp-content/uploads/2019/11/The-Positive- Impact-of-Fear-Free-Certification-in-Vet- Practices.pdf

3. “The Continual Business Growth of Fear Free Certified Practices,” Dunn, L, Founder/ CEO Snowgoose Veterinary Consulting. 2020. https://fearfreepets.com/wp-content/ uploads/2020/10/The-Continual-Business- Growth-of-Fear-Free-Certified-Practices- October-2020.pdf

4. Fear Free: The Long-Term Benefits for Pets, People, and the Profession, Dunn, L/CEO Snowgoose Veterinary Consulting, 2022.

 

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