Fear Free Exam Tips

March 2024 |

Techniques to soothe and relax pets, from Fear Free founder Dr. Marty Becker.

Since 2016 when Marty Becker, DVM, launched Fear Free, his techniques (such as using treats, soft surfaces, calming music and pheromones) have been proven to lower and eliminate fear, anxiety and stress (FAS) in animals and improve veterinary outcomes. Now Becker provides 10 tips for when it all comes together—in the exam room:

1. Skip the waiting room. Advise clients to park in the parking lot and wait in their vehicle with the pet until it’s their turn to be seen. You could even eliminate your waiting area, Becker says, and use the space to add extra exam rooms. Send out a “pet concierge” to meet clients and pets between the car and the clinic and accompany them to the door.

2. Greet with treats. Let dogs pick out a treat when they enter. Draw a smile on the scale with Easy Cheese to entice them to step on to be weighed.

3. Give them five. Let pets acclimate to the exam room for five minutes, listening to calming music and inhaling pheromones, before anything happens that could trigger FAS.

4. Speak their language. New studies show that, just like babies, dogs like high-pitched voices and prefer female voices to male voices. And this preference for high-pitched voices and women holds true even for strangers.

5. Stay low. Ever since hearing from animal behaviorist Temple Grandin that most animals’ worst fear is of falling, Becker has shifted away from exam tables. If you do put pets up on a table, cover it with something soft and with good traction. You can have clients bring their own bathmat from home for a familiar touchpoint and scent.

6. Skip routine temperature checks. Unless pets are sick, don’t take their temperature, Becker recommends, since “it causes too much FAS.” If a temperature is needed, use the HomeAgain TempScan, a pet microchip with temperature-detecting technology that allows you to take a pet’s temperature with a simple scan.

7. Start at the back. When examining cats, start at the back and move forward, as cats find this approach less threatening. “Not nose to tail,” says Becker. “And learn how to do all exams without prolonged eye contact.”

8. Check for pain. Becker recommends PainTrace, a wearable monitor launched in 2020. It quantifies both acute and chronic pain levels using skin-mounted sensors, helping veterinarians know when an animal is in pain and zero in on where that pain is, even if the animal is hiding it.

9. Pay attention to needle size. Choose a needle that allows you to give the needed vaccine in three to five seconds. “Needle size matters,” says Becker. “Don’t use too fine a needle, or it takes too long to give the shot.” And hide the syringe: “We cover it with little blue surgery towels spritzed with pheromones.”

10. Distract from shots. Just before giving shots, write the pet’s name in Easy Cheese, whipped cream or liver paste on a little paddle and let the pet lick it. Or provide whipped cream to lick from an ice cream cone. Or offer dogs two cones: one with Easy Cheese and one with peanut butter. Then give the shot while the pet is distracted with the treat. “Sometimes clients think we didn’t vaccinate their pet, because 90% of the time the pet has no response whatsoever,” says Becker.

The 26-Second Exam

Worried that it might take too long or cost too much to do Fear Free exams? “Studies show it takes 26 seconds to do a really good Fear Free exam, and your hard costs are from 50 cents to a dollar, mainly in treats,” says Becker. And, he points out, most of the techniques—such as having the pet wait in the vehicle, avoiding eye contact and talking in a low voice—are free.