Reducing Pet Anxiety at the Vet: Fear Free Techniques

Using Fear Free Techniques in the Clinic

Fear Free Lobby

Our Fear Free protocol starts with your phone call to our office. Please let us know if your pet experiences fear, stress or anxiety during veterinary visits and we will make suggestions for you to try before you even leave home! Once you arrive, our Fear Free protocol will begin.  We place a bandana on your dog or a blanket over your cat carrier. Each has been sprayed with a special pheromone for your pet.  Pheromones are produced by animals to either mark their territory as safe (for cats) or to help feel calm and secure (for dogs).  Many of our clients have noticed that their pets are less vocal and nervous in the exam rooms since we began utilizing these products.

In fact, most of you have likely experienced that stressful car ride to the vet with a howling cat. We have come to think of this as normal. It is NOT normal, and we will no longer accept it! Once in the lobby, place your cat on the elevated “cat carrier parking” areas in the lobby and we will cover his carrier with a Feliway sprayed blanket.

We also use the diffusers that are species specific in our exam rooms to help calm your pet.  We specifically use Feliway® and Adaptil® products. These diffusers are unscented and ONLY emit pheromones. They are non-toxic and safe for any species including birds. They will only affect they species that has the appropriate pheromone receptors.

Archer with bandana
Archer is calm with an Adaptil sprayed bandana. He sits willingly on a non slip exam table.


Fear Free Exam Room

Before and during the exam we utilize treats to help keep your pet calm and distracted.  Pets often focus on the food and allow us to complete the physical exam with less stress involved.  For dogs we try to utilize a variety of treats including:  jerky treats, spray cheese and peanut butter.  Of course we respect any food allergies as needed.  Our staff always attempts to use treats when performing procedures, such as nail trims and vaccines, so there is minimal stress and fear involved. You can help by bringing your dog in a little hungry, that way they are more likely to focus on the food. And if you have a sensitive dog or a fussy eater feel free to bring their favorite treat from home! You can also bring a special toy or item that makes them feel comfortable (a stuffed toy, chew toy or a special bed or blanket, for example). If your dog is food motivated we may also use a stuffed “kong” treat while they are waiting to help them feel at home.

In the video below, Mia gets a stuffed kong at her first puppy visit. She is playing and happy by the time the vet comes in. We are starting her out on the right paw!

If you are bringing your cat in, you may want to bring their favorite blanket or bed as we can often do the examination while they are laying on that. Cats are often not quite as food motivated as dogs but we do have several specific cat treats to try and entice them. They also like the cheese! We have special “kitty huts” in the exam rooms so that they can feel hidden and safe while they wait. Be sure that the carrier you choose is easy to open (the entire top should come off easily) as many of our kitties have their entire procedure done while safely in the bottom of their carrier! Remember, we know how cats like to be transported and recommend specific style carriers.

Fear Free Cat Exam - Oakview Vet Plover WI
This cat is still in his safe space and can have his exam while he is comfortable.


Fear Free Cat Exam Set Up - Oakview Vet Plover WI
This cat is resting on a warmed blanket over a non-slip surface. There is a hidey box behind him if he feels overwhelmed. The iCalm is playing soothing music, Feliway is plugged in, and natural remedies for anxiety are on hand.


You will notice that we have slip-proof surfaces for dogs and “yoga mats” for cats so that they feel safe and secure if they are on the examination table. We have come a long way from making our pets sit on cold, slippery stainless steel tables!

Lastly, we utilize the iCalm pet sound systems for both dogs and cats. This classical music has been studied and is at an appropriate cadence to have a calming affect on dogs and cats. (They also have more stimulating sounds if you want to use them at home!)

Dog with stuffed kong in exam room
This dog is playing with a stuffed kong in the exam room. It is keeping him distracted and provides positive reinforcement.

Fear Free Exams

During the examination, we will ask that one of our staff members gently restrains your pet while you remain in front of them for reassurance. In most cases they can have treats during the examination. We try to be very aware of words/phrases and touch during the examination process. Did you know that “It’s okay” is one of the most stressful phrases you can say to a dog!? We only say it when things are definitely NOT ok and our dogs learn that “It’s okay” actually means “Look out”! We try to speak in calm, reassuring tones and we actually DON’T stroke the dogs much. Studies have shown that excessive stroking may calm the owners but it actually increases the stress levels of their dogs! Instead we use a calm, firm touch that lets them know where we are and where we are heading so that we don’t surprise them with an injection. This is called the “touch gradient.”

Fear Free Procedures

There are times when your pet may need an additional procedure – blood analysis, urine analysis, fluid therapy, x-rays or even surgery. We want our pet parents to rest assured that the steps we take up front and in the examination rooms are carried throughout the hospital. We never want a pet to feel “forced” into a procedure; we want them to be comfortable and relaxed. So while they may need to be restrained, they should be calm and not struggling. You will notice that our examination rooms all have windows in the doors so you can see the working area of the clinic. We don’t do anything to your pet we wouldn’t do to our pets! If your pet is hospitalized for any reason they will benefit from appropriate pheromones, warmed blankets, soft music and a “hide box” if appropriate.

In the video below, a cat is having blood drawn from her back leg. She is fed cheese throughout the procedure and is barely being restrained!


Occasionally we have patients that are so nervous and fearful that the pheromone products and treats do not adequately reduce this anxiety.  In that case we often prescribe medications that have sedative properties to give the pet before the appointment.  We never attempt to wrestle or fight with a patient if they are fearful or anxious about the exam or any procedures that we need to perform.  If this medication is not effective enough, or we cannot postpone the appointment, then we will use an injectable sedative in the clinic.

Nail Trims

Nail trims are one of our most requested services. This seemingly simple task is often impossible for owners to do at home and difficult in clinic. It causes a lot of stress in pets and their owners. Dogs especially hate to have their feet touched. Our team has worked hard to make nail trims low stress, and it’s going great! Food rewards and little to no restraint are our biggest aids. Gone are the days of holding a pet down for a nail trim. Watch Bella, who we have worked with routinely since she was a puppy.

Your pet’s stress is a top concern for us here at Oakview Vet. We look forward to making your vet visits happier!

Go to our YouTube page to see more low stress procedures.

Dr Lisa Karnitz - Oakview Vet Plover WI


Dr Lisa Karnitz is the newest vet on our team, and bravely led the charge to become Fear Free Certified! We love her for her patience, her helpfulness, and her smile!






Dr. Karnitz graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 2004. She has been in practice ever since. She was also the resident veterinarian at the Globe University for two years.
Dr. Karnitz has a special interest in dentistry and internal medicine.
She shares her home with her husband, two children, and a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel named Harry.

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