Embrace the Fear Free Movement for Better Lives for our Pets
Updated: 6 days ago
Fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS) drive the way a dog or cat behaves, especially at the vet. There are no “bad” dogs or cats – there are fearful, nervous, anxious, stressed pets, who have been removed from the comfort of their home, taken from their family, poked and prodded and dragged through an unfamiliar place filled with unfamiliar smells and unfamiliar people. Our pets react in one of four ways when experiencing FAS: Freeze, Flight, Fidget, or Fight.
1. Freeze — This reaction is pretty self-explanatory. Signs of fear are often ignored in these pets because they seem compliant with treatment; however, they are just too scared to move, and experiencing severe mental distress.
2. Flight — Again, pretty self-explanatory. These pets try to escape when they’re scared, which results in the inability of the veterinary team to provide necessary treatments, or worse, a veterinary team that wrestles and pins down a pet experiencing FAS.
3. Fidget — This response is often misinterpreted. Pets who fidget might be continually moving, panting, looking around, and tail wagging. Often they are hypervigilant and uncomfortable with their surroundings. These pets are generally unintentionally mishandled because they don’t seem fearful or anxious to the untrained eye.
4. Fight — Often labeled “aggressive,” these pets are not willing to be handled (or sometimes even looked at) by strangers and they are going to tell you about it. Any pet that initially responds with one of the three other fear responses (freeze, flight, fidget) can escalate to the fight response if we disregard the early warning signs that the pet is fearful.
Believe it or not, veterinarians and veterinary technicians receive minimal training in animal behavior, which is why the Fear Free movement was started. In 2016, the Fear Free movement launched and quickly began changing veterinary medicine for the better. Fear Free practices aim to “take the ‘pet’ out of ‘petrified’” and create positive experiences for pets at the vet. I have personally been an advocate of the Fear Free movement since its inception, and am an Elite Fear Free Certified Professional.
Changing the mindset of the veterinary staff and training veterinary professionals to approach patients with empathy and respect is at the core of the movement, and the benefits of using gentle control and a considerate approach are far-reaching. Fear Free has been accepted by and incorporated into the American Animal Hospital Association’s standards of accreditation, a set of standards some practices voluntarily hold themselves to in order to provide the highest quality patient and client care possible.