The new year is bringing exciting changes to Hillside Animal Hospital. If you haven’t been in recently to see our new separate cat waiting space and exam room, you should stop by. These newly constructed areas help make your cat’s visit as stress-free as possible. In our waiting area, we diffuse calming lavender as well as provide towels sprayed with Feliway, a pheromone product to help reduce stress levels in cats. These towels can be placed over your cat’s carrier while you wait. The exam room has toys, treats, soothing sounds, and soft bedding to make your feline friend feel more at home. It also provides more Feliway in the form of a plug-in diffuser and freshly sprayed towels on the exam table. We recognize that your cat’s mental health is just as important as their physical condition and that most do not enjoy their veterinary visits. Our goal is to provide an environment that is much quieter and more comfortable than the standard exam room.

We have also incorporated using reward-based methods during your dog’s appointment. The most common of which is providing food treats to make the visit more enjoyable. You will notice our staff offering various food choices such as cheese and peanut butter to your pet (if you or a member of your family has any food allergies or sensitivities, please let our staff know). If your dog has a favorite treat or toy at home, please bring it with you. We are also happy to have you actively participate in their appointments, and may even recruit your help feeding them treats as we do our exams. We always enjoy watching them perform their tricks and rewarding those behaviors, so feel free to show off how smart your dog is. You may also notice that we are using more gentle handling techniques. Our staff has been trained in canine body language and are constantly reading the subtle cues your dog is giving us. We do not wish to scare your dog, so we try to ease into the handling process. If you have an especially anxious or frightened dog, we can discuss signing you up for our free Happy Visit program or even using anti-anxiety medications to help ease their stress on future visits. The goal is for your dog to have a pleasant and fun experience while at our hospital.

The catalyst behind these changes is a recent movement in veterinary medicine called Fear Free. Veterinarians noticed that the stress their patients were experiencing during visits could be damaging to their overall physical health. Unfortunately, studies proved this to be true. Just like in people, stress causes an increase in the hormone called cortisol in pets. Prolonged exposure to high levels of cortisol can cause an array of health problems. This prompted a series of lectures to be created to help teach other veterinarians how to recognize and treat their patient’s behavioral health in the clinical setting. As interest grew, these lectures were expanded to all veterinary staff, groomers, and trainers. As of 2017, over 21,000 veterinary and pet professionals have committed to becoming Fear Free Certified. And the numbers are growing every day. Here at Hillside, we are excited to join this movement. So far 11 of our staff members have earned their certification, and several others are in the process. In order to become certified, we had to complete over 9 hours of coursework. We are also required to continue our education throughout the year in order to renew our certification. In the Spring of 2018, they are launching a practice certification process. Much like our AAHA accreditation, the process will require an on-site visit by a Fear Free administrator. During that visit, they will evaluate our clinic and staff to be sure we are meeting their standards. These Fear Free methods are becoming the new standard of care in veterinary medicine. We are happy to see the shift to recognizing the importance of incorporating behavioral health into their overall physical report.
Fear Free is not just for veterinary and pet professionals. Recently they launched Fear Free Happy Homes. This free membership enables you to have access to a wealth of information. They send out weekly newsletters as well as provide deals on products every Friday. These products focus on enriching your pet’s home environment, some are even tailored to our shy furry friends. They also have links with tips on nutrition, behavior, travel, and safety concerns such as fireworks or other noise phobias. We encourage all of our clients to take a look at their website and consider signing up for their membership.

All of us at Hillside Animal Hospital are excited to see how these methods are positively affecting our patients and clients. We have had numerous clients commenting on how much more relaxed their pets appear. And for those with very fearful pets, we have received positive feedback on how the gentler handling techniques appear to help ease the stress they experience during their visits. Our goal is to have the veterinary experience to be fun for both pet and owner. Visit for more information schedule your appointment today to see these changes in action.