Taking the ‘pet’ out of petrified

Fear Free aims to reduce fear, anxiety, and stress for pets

Created date

April 30th, 2020
A very scared-looking cat is held by a vet in a white coat.

Is your pet freaked out by going to the vet? What if you could take the "pet" out of petrified?

Nobody likes the poking and prodding that comes with a visit to the doctor, but for pets, even a simple annual checkup can be an exhausting, anxiety-filled ordeal. 

Consider what a visit to the vet is like from your pet’s point of view. 

Before he’s even out of the car, your pet—let’s call him Max—is tipped off by the fear pheromones wafting through the air. Left behind by previous animal visitors, those pheromones warn Max that he’s in danger.  

Inside the waiting room, more fear pheromones tell Max to turn back now or at least keep his guard up because “bad things” happen here. 

When he’s ushered into the exam room, he is further confused and frightened when he’s hoisted onto a high, slippery table so the vet can comfortably assess his health—no matter that being on that table is anything but comfortable for Max.

As any pet parent knows, it only gets worse from there—vaccine shots, ear and mouth exams—the list goes on.

As Dr. Marty Becker puts it, “We take an oath as veterinarians to prevent and relieve animal pain and suffering, and it turns out, we were causing it by what we were doing or not doing.”

Known as “America’s vet” after his long-running association with Good Morning America and the author of over 23 animal care books, Becker is changing the pet health care experience by, as he puts it, “taking the ‘pet’ out of petrified” with Fear Free pets. 

“Now we’re taking responsibility for both the physical and emotional well-being of animals,” says Becker. 

Founded in 2016, Fear Free’s mission is “to prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety, and stress in pets by inspiring and educating the people who care for them.” The company offers certification and training programs to vets, animal shelters, and other pet-centric businesses. 

The Fear Free experience

A Fear Free establishment puts the pet’s comfort first. 

To counter all those fear pheromones, Fear Free businesses generously spritz their surroundings with comforting pheromones to put pets at ease. 

Inside the exam room, Fear Free vets forgo the high table and evaluate patients on the floor. 

And to keep animals as calm and cooperative as possible, Fear Free centers distract their patients with a steady stream of treats throughout the exam.

“We call it putting the ‘treat’ into treatment. We’ll give anywhere from 30 to 60 treats in a 15-minute exam. Little, tiny pieces, like a Beggin’ Strip in 30 pieces,” says Becker. 

To get Fear Free certification, vets and other animal care providers must complete an online course and pass an exam created by a group of veterinary behavior and care experts. Certified providers then implement Fear Free methods and techniques into their practices.  

“This isn’t just another practice management or behavior course,” says Becker. “This is a movement to return us to the love of animals and joy of practice that we all started out with, but most of us lost at some point.”

Fear Free practices 

Dr. Kathryn Primm, a veterinarian from Ooltewah, Tenn., was the first to be certified. 

“No veterinary professional likes to force unwelcome experiences onto an animal, and now we can make sure that no longer happens,” says Primm. “We can make sure every animal gets the care he needs, without the burden of fear and anxiety.” 

Over 40,000 pet care professionals have been certified by Fear Free.   

“The success of this program is owed to three main factors,” says Becker. “First, Fear Free is the right thing to do; nobody gets involved with veterinary medicine to make life worse for animals. Second, Fear Free allows veterinary professionals to practice a higher quality of medicine while elevating care for their patients. Finally, pet owners are actively searching for individuals with certification to take care of their pets, so practitioners are flocking to certification because of market demand.”

“To see a dog who used to hide under his owner’s chair come out with an expectant look when I walk in is as good for me as it is for him,” says Primm. “Now, maybe owners won’t have to say they’re going to the V-E-T anymore, because animals won’t dread their visits!”

‘Fear Free Happy Homes’

Fear Free expanded its reach with “Fear Free Happy Homes,” a no-cost online educational website for pet owners featuring articles, courses, and other content created by board-certified veterinary behaviorists and other top pet care experts. 

It helps pet owners prevent and reduce fear, anxiety, and stress for their pets at home and in their daily activities. 

“As veterinarians or pet professionals, we might see pets a few times a year, but their pet parents see them every day,” says Becker. “Sharing simple, science-based approaches to helping pets have happier lives is core to our mission, and this change will remove barriers and ease stress for both pets and their humans.”

For more information, visit fearfreehappyhomes.com.