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What Is a Fear-Free Veterinary Clinic? Vet-Reviewed Facts

Written by: Kit Copson

Last Updated on May 10, 2024 by Dogster Team

dog owner talking to vet

What Is a Fear-Free Veterinary Clinic? Vet-Reviewed Facts


Dr. Amanda Charles Photo


Dr. Amanda Charles

BVSc MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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The Fear Free veterinary movement took off in 2016 with founder Dr. Marty Becker at the helm and the goal of making veterinary clinics a less frightening and stressful place for animals, their guardians, and the professionals involved in the animals’ care.

Vets and veterinary clinic staff with the Fear Free certification have received training on how to foster an environment and atmosphere in which the emotional well-being of everybody, whether scaly, furry, feathered or human, is front and center. In this guide, we’ll explain more about the Fear Free Veterinary Practice Certification and how Fear Free veterinary clinics operate.

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How Does It Work?

vet checking up dog in vet clinic
Image Credit: SUKJAI PHOTO, Shutterstock

For vet clinics, the Fear Free principle is about acknowledging how traumatic vet visits can be and learning how to spot and decrease feelings of fear, anxiety and stress (FAS) when an animal visits the clinic. It also entails creating the optimal environment for reducing stress as much as possible.

The Fear Free Veterinary Practice Certification takes trainees through various steps including an online self-assessment and a virtual onsite visit which allows trainees to observe Fear Free-certified clinic staff at work. In addition to certifications for entire practices, Fear Free courses are available for individual veterinary professionals, shelters, groomers, trainers, and pet owners.

Examples of techniques that may be implemented in a Fear Free veterinary clinic include (but are not limited to):

  • Constantly observing the patient for signs of fear, anxiety, and stress and adapting to the patient’s needs.
  • Removing stressors when necessary.
  • Maintaining consistent communication with colleagues throughout procedures.
  • Using touch gradient (gentle control, considerate approach).
  • Creating a calm, friendly, and welcoming environment.
  • Having separate waiting areas for cats and dogs.
  • Having separate areas for hospitalized patients based on their needs.
  • Speaking in a calm, quiet voice.
  • Offering treats, toys, and rewards to create positive associations.
  • Using pheromone diffusers.
  • Using dimmable lights.
  • Arranging the environment in a way that reduces unnecessary noise.
  • Mildly sedating the animal if the team concludes that it’s the best/only way to eliminate their stress.

Why Is the Fear-Free Concept Important?

Even simple procedures like vaccinations can have a lasting impact on an animal due to the stress of being suddenly placed in a carrier and taken somewhere new and strange, full of anxiety-inducing smells and noises. If the animal receiving medical attention is visiting the vet due to illness or injury, those feelings are further exacerbated by discomfort and pain.

This is not only stressful for the animal, making them reluctant to go back to the clinic in the future, but it’s also stressful for their guardian and the vet trying to examine and treat them. In addition, fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS) may interfere with the results of certain tests and can increase blood pressure, cortisol, heart rate, and respiration. FAS can also contribute to issues like stress colitis and slow wound healing.

What’s more, animals with FAS are much more difficult to diagnose because they’re trickier to examine.

How Can Pet Parents Help?

Dog Vet Checking Dog
Image Credit: Pressmaster, Shutterstock

Fear-free techniques can begin at home well before the date of the vet appointment. One way to contribute to making vet visits as stress-free as possible is by getting your animal used to their carrier or your car well in advance.

Leave the carrier out at home and let them interact with it and get inside it whenever they want. Place fabrics with your scent inside the carrier and encourage your pet to go inside with treats. Don’t close the door right away—wait until your pet is comfortable going inside, then start to practice closing the door.

If you have a dog that doesn’t go in a carrier, you can do some practice car rides to places other than the vet clinic, making each ride a positive experience with treats, praise, and petting. You can even start more slowly by simply practicing sitting in the car with them with the doors open if your dog is especially nervous. Other ways to implement Fear Free techniques include:

  • Being organized on the day of the visit to avoid rushing and heightened anxiety on your part, as this will affect your pet.
  • Contacting the clinic to let them know your pet is prone to getting anxious at the vet’s. This helps the clinic prepare better.
  • Thinking about whether your pet is more likely to be relaxed around a male or female vet. Ask the clinic if they can accommodate this need.
  • Booking an early appointment as vet clinics tend to be quieter in the mornings.

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Advantages of Fear-Free Vet Clinics

The advantages of fear-free veterinary establishments can’t be overstated. In addition to being a calmer, more relaxed environment for frightened pets and stressed guardians, being a Fear Free-certified professional helps instill trust in the client and fosters a safer, more mentally and emotionally healthy working environment for vets, vet nurses, and other clinic staff.

Disadvantages of Fear-Free Vet Clinics

There are few disadvantages of Fear-Free clinics for pets, but it can be costly for veterinary clinic teams to take the certification. The cost of the Fear Free Veterinary Practice Certification depends on how many full-time DVMs are on the team and includes memberships for all clinic staff. The certification membership also needs to be renewed annually, so the costs are ongoing.

A veterinarian examines a poodle ears
Image Credit: ORION PRODUCTION, Shutterstock

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What Is a Fear-Free Vet?

A Fear Free vet is an individual or team of vets and veterinary staff that have completed the Fear Free certification. This certification teaches techniques for making veterinary clinics as stress-free as possible to benefit pets, their guardians, and the staff.

What’s the Main Purpose of Fear-Free Restraint?

Sometimes, it’s necessary to restrain an animal to carry out a procedure. Restraint can cause excessive stress to animals and can even be dangerous if tonic immobility occurs, which is more common in prey species like rabbits and rodents. Gentle control—positioning the animal as comfortably and safely as possible to avoid frightening them—is a key fear-free principle.

Touch gradient is used to gradually get the animal used to being touched in a way necessary to restrain them. Touch gradient ideally maintains physical hands-on contact throughout the examination or procedure, and gradually increases the level of touch intensity while keeping a close eye on the animal’s stress levels and comfort.

A veterinarian examines a chihuahua puppy_
Image Credit: OLESYA BOLTENKOVA_Shutterstock

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To sum up, the fear-free concept is pretty much what it says on the tin: Making animals feel as relaxed and comfortable as possible when they visit the vet or another establishment like a grooming salon or shelter. The concept involves taking a holistic approach to veterinary care and focusing on the animal’s emotional as well as physical well-being.

See also:

Featured Image Credit: SeventyFour, Shutterstock

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