Fear Free Handling—And Tuna—Turn Vet Visit From Sad To Glad

Does Fear Free matter? Are you kidding? Here’s an example. My own 15-year old cat, Roxy, went to the veterinarian recently for some medical issues.

She’s actually fine with going into her carrier and the car ride, and in the past she has never minded the veterinary visit. This time, however, both Dr. Natalie Marks at Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago and I noticed that she was showing fear. Perhaps it was because she wasn’t feeling well in the first place.

How could we tell she was showing fear as she was sitting on the exam table?

Well, in cats, signaling can be subtle. In this case, Roxy was “scrunched up.” She was on her way to a condition referred to as learned helplessness. Animals in this state are frozen with fear. They may seem calm, but they are actually terrified.

But it never got that far with Roxy.

Dr. Marks instantly reached back to her cooler where she keeps a stash of goodies. For Roxy, she pulled out tuna.

The heavy artillery did the trick. As she scarfed it down, her entire body posture became looser, more at ease. Soon she had no clue that Dr. Marks was beginning her exam,  and if she did have a clue, she didn’t care. This is one example of the difference a Fear Free-certified veterinarian can make at a Fear Free-certified practice.

Without Fear Free techniques, Roxy would have been terrified. The exam wouldn’t have gone as well, and no one wants a pet to have a poor experience. And with one poor experience—don’t think pets don’t remember–the next veterinary visit would have been even more frightening for Roxy. Instead, within seconds we caught what was happening and turned it around. Best we can tell, Roxy actually wound up enjoying her visit with Dr. Marks just as she always has.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.