Fear Free is a series of training protocols for veterinary professionals, trainers and pet owners on the reduction of fear, anxiety and stress in pets. Our hospital manager is fear-free certified, and Gentle Doctor Animal Hospital practices fear-free practices.

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Fear-Free certification

When veterinary professionals undertake the task of becoming Fear-Free Certified, they are showing their dedication to providing their four-legged patients with veterinary care that aims to reduce the fear, anxiety and stress that often accompany a trip to the vet.

Our hospital manager has undergone extensive training on how to create a calm and welcoming environment for pets and how to recognize when an animal is feeling fearful or anxious and in need of a more gentle approach.

Low-Stress Handling certification

Our staff members who have received Sophia Yin's Low-Stress Handling certification have been taught to recognize the overt and subtle signs of fear and anxiety in dogs and cats. They have also been taught how to avoid the common mistakes people make when approaching and greeting pets, which can lead to more fearful or aggressive interactions.

Our certified professionals have been taught to handle patients in a relaxed, non-threatening manner and how to create a calmer, safer and more secure environment for pets.

Fear Free Certified, O’Fallon Vet

Fear-Free & Low-Stress Handling techniques

Gentle Doctor Animal Hospital is dedicated to decreasing stress, anxiety and fear in patients while offering the best medical care possible.

The small things we do to make your pet's experience at our hospital positive include offering treats, KONGS, mats and hiding spaces, allowing cats to stay in their carriers or dogs in their family's lap, pre-visit medications when needed, and modifications in our handling techniques.

Larger Fear-Free and Low-Stress Handling principles have been incorporated into the design of our animal hospital, including separate cat and dog areas.

We feel that following both big and small Fear-Free and Low-Stress Handling principles makes our delivery of patient care a more gentle and positive experience for our patients and their owners.

From the moment you walk through our doors, we want you to know that you and your pet are important to us!

Many of our staff members have worked hard at becoming certified in Fear-Free and/or Low-Stress Handling as part of their dedication to providing outstanding veterinary care.

We think that your pet will appreciate our Fear-Free and Low-Stress approach.

How we implement Fear Free

At our veterinary clinic, many of our professionals are trained in Fear-Free practices and philosophies; thus, the basic principles of this approach extend throughout the hospital and are prioritized second only to the medical care of our patients.

At Gentle Doctor Animal Hospital we blend Fear-Free practices with the Low-Stress Handling techniques of Sophia Yin to help all of our patients have a relaxed, stress-free experience whenever they visit us.

We work with our patients and their owners to undertake the following steps before and during each appointment:

  • Good Communication Between Pets & People

    We start by understanding and identifying how pets communicate signs of stress to us.

    These signs can include a number of subtle and obvious signals, from a tense expression or dilated pupils to growling, hissing or a tucked tail — just to name a few.

    We also discuss the pet's known stressors with the owner, which can include sounds, scents, discomfort, disease processes and unfamiliar people.

    Getting to know our canine and feline clients and understanding what stresses them out, and how they communicate that stress, helps us better manage it during their visits.

    We ask the family to speak up if there is something that causes fear, anxiety or stress (FAS). We can help!

  • Planning Ahead

    An anxiety-free veterinary appointment starts at home. Let us know if your pet gets stressed going to the vet. We can offer suggestions for things to do at home before the visit. There may be options to send supplements or medication home before the visit to help with car sickness or to help decrease the level of stress at the vet.

    Let us know if your pet gets stressed coming into the lobby or meeting new people or other animals. We can have you wait in the car or in our outside waiting area then come directly into the exam room. We have several entrances to help.

    Let us know if your pet does better with male or female vets.

    Cats and small- to medium-sized dogs should be acclimated to their carriers. This can be accomplished by leaving the carrier out in an area of the home where the pet likes to be. ​Place a towel over the top of the carrier to help create a safe place with familiar scents.

    The carrier should be outfitted with toys, soft, comfortable bedding or a non-slip mat, and should have a top-off option to make it more accessible.

    You can also spray cat or dog pheromones in the carrier or, for larger dogs, onto a bandana.

    If transporting a medium to large dog, be sure to use an approved restraint device in the car. The drive to the vet can be kept low-stress with calm music or silence and y avoiding hard stops or starts. 

    Bring your pet's favorite treats or toys to the visit.

  • A Calm, Quiet Environment

    At our veterinary office, we do our best to keep the atmosphere calm, quiet and positive.

    To help reduce your pet's stress in the waiting area, keep cats and dogs separate as much as possible. Cat carriers should be kept off of the floor and on a sturdy table or chair. Keep your dog leashed and close to your side to minimize interaction with other waiting pets.

    When you arrive, you and your pet will receive a warm and friendly welcome. We want you to know that you are important to us.

    As dogs and cats are often sensitive to loud noises and quick movements, during the appointment, our veterinary team will remain calm, speak in quiet voices and approach your pet in a slow, careful manner.

  • Treats & Toys

    To encourage a positive experience and decreased fear, stress  and anxiety during the visit, rewards such as treats, toys or petting/brushing can be used during an exam or when obtaining diagnostics as long as it is not contraindicated based on why the pet is at the hospital.

    We have treats throughout the hospital, but if your cat or dog is on a special diet, we encourage you to bring their treats or food with you to the visit.

  • Sedation & Restraint Options

    Our staff is trained in Low-Stress Handling techniques and a considerate approach. We use treats, petting and toys as distractions. Families are allowed to be with their pets during procedures (excluding sedation, anesthesia, X-rays and while the hospital is closed). The staff will direct families on how they can play a part in their pet's treatment to ensure lower stress for the animal and to keep staff and family safe during the procedure.

    In some cases, we will reschedule a procedure if the pet is stressed. This allows us to send home medications before performing the procedures.

    If restraint is required during a procedure, our trained staff may use a towel wrap, a muzzle or an Elizabethan collar to ensure the patient is safe and comfortable during the process. A mild sedative may be recommended to make sure that the procedure can be performed safely and is less stressful for the patient.

    If you already know that your pet experiences anxiety or stress when visiting the vet, it may be beneficial for the veterinarian to provide you with a mild sedative to give to your pet at home prior to an appointment

  • Fear-Free Overnight Stays

    Our veterinary team has guidelines in place to minimize stress during overnight stays.

    We work to minimize smells and loud noises, and we place calming pheromone diffusers around the hospital.

    We also sometimes use soft music or white noise machines to interfere with any sudden noises. Lights are kept low and pets are given soft bedding and places to hide to make them more comfortable.

    If we need to move your pet around in the hospital — for an exam, a procedure, or a walk outside — it is done slowly and calmly, avoiding interactions with other patients. Mild sedatives or anti-anxiety medications may be used in the hospital to reduce stress during the stay.