When I opened The Cooke Veterinary Medical Center in November 2002, the veterinary catchphrase trend ‘Fear-Free Medicine’ did not exist. With increased awareness of fear in our patients and ways to combat it, it has become a significant and much-needed movement in veterinary medicine. Developed by the late veterinary behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin, and other behaviorists, it includes techniques employed by the veterinary staff to lower the stress and fear levels of pets when they visit the animal hospital.
Techniques involve low sound levels, comfortable bedding on the table, stress-free restraint in order to trim nails or draw blood, and positive reinforcement of food treats and tastes that release the happy hormones in the brain, and decreasing stress in the pet. You may have heard of these techniques being used in the last few years.
In 2002 when we first opened our doors, we intuitively employed these techniques.
Since day one, we do not take routine rectal temperatures on pets. We routinely use ear thermometers instead of rectal thermometers. If we are concerned a true fever exists, we will certainly take a more accurate internal temperature rectally, but our patients appreciate that the rectal temp is not the first ‘hello and how do you do’. It is little wonder the profession has stressed them out.
We do not rush in and rush out of a room. Our appointment schedule prioritizes quality time, not volume. We take our time getting to know our patients by loving on them first. If we have a skittish pet, we calm them by using pheromones in the exam room (Feliaway and Adaptil )and avoiding direct eye contact with them until they relax. Direct and staring eye contact to a ‘predator species’ can mean ‘attack’ if they are already skittish and fearful.
Our exam rooms are insulated to decrease sounds, so chatter cannot be heard from room to room. Our rooms are large and open with large windows allowing in natural light, decreasing stress to our patients and clients. Many family members can be present for the visit if they choose. The tight, small rooms in many vet offices are claustrophobic and offer no natural light. We also have no stainless steel tables in our office. The cold, sterile feel of yesteryear has been replaced with granite, and we sit down with the client and to exam the patients. We place comfortable towels on the table for snuggle time for those pets that love to hide. Of course, larger dogs are examined on the floor with what is more of ‘massage and play time’ than an exam. Check-out occurs in the exam room, making it easier for owners and pets. ‘We wait on you’ – not the other way around.
We have open viewing windows into our surgery suite and our treatment center. Clients who wish to watch us work or see how ‘Fluffy’ actually does for the nail trim or the blood draw may do so if they wish. Some pets are better if the client is present; some are calmer if the client is not present. When I first revealed the open windows concept in 2002, more than one veterinary insider said that I ‘was crazy and I would regret that decision.’
In 2016, not only am I without regret, I am proud to say The Cooke Veterinary Medical Center is a pioneer in the industry! By including our cherished clients and their beloved pets in ‘the healing process,’ we all enjoy a better quality of fear-free living!!