Fear Free Veterinary Visits at Leesburg Veterinary Hospital

Leesburg Veterinary Hospital is very excited to announce that many of our staff members recently became Fear Free Certified and the rest of the staff will be participating in the course in the coming months!

Fear Free Certification is something we believe will further enhance the veterinary experience for your pets and your family!

Developed by “America’s Veterinarian,” Dr. Marty Becker and a team of board-certified leaders in the veterinary field,  The Fear Free Initiative is presented through a series of eight courses which aim to transform the entire veterinary experience for pets.  The training and certification have encouraged us to modify procedures, handling techniques, and changes in our hospital design to help pets feel safe and comfortable during visits.

Watch as Dr. Marty Becker gives his tips for a fear free vet visit:

From our perspective, a pet that is calm and happy is not only safer for the staff members handling the pet but leads to more effective and comprehensive medical exams.  For example, pets exhibiting acute stress symptoms during an exam can induce falsely high blood pressure numbers; chronic stress can delay healing and suppress the immune system over time.

We are very aware that, for you, bringing a happy dog with his tail wagging is much easier than forcing them to visit us.  We also know that many of our feline friends will never be “excited” to see us. (We’re guessing most of our cat owners have experienced the situation below in one way or another at some point!) However, their trip to and from the vet and their experience here can be made less stressful with several simple steps.

Travel Time

Fear Free Pet Travel Tips

Sometimes the most stressful part of visiting the vet is traveling to and from the appointment.  You can read all of our tips for preparing your pets for travel in our “Stress Less” document on our website. http://leesburgvet.com/pdf/Stress_Less.pdf

Does your pet experience motion sickness during car travel?  If so, we may suggest prescribing medication before the appointment to alleviate those symptoms.

Give yourself plenty of travel time before the appointment, preferably leaving ten minutes earlier than you think you’d need to get here.  Not feeling rushed, you will feel less stressed and can focus on driving safely and slowly.  Less frantic starts and stops will hopefully lessen your pet’s anxiety or motion sickness.


We all know the typical veterinary check-in process: Arrive at the hospital, grab the leash or carrier, check in at reception, then wait in the lobby until appointment time.  In our Fear Free training, we’ve learned that the waiting game cannot be a one-size-fits-all method for every pet.

If your pet immediately becomes anxious upon entering the doors, we recommend keeping them in your climate-controlled car while you check-in, or even taking a walk on the hospital grounds. We will be happy to come out to get you when your appointment is ready to begin.

If your pet appears nervous, we likely will not greet them right away and will instead let them explore and acclimate at their own pace.

With its large walled-off bays and spacious benches, our lobby was designed to keep pets separated and close to you while waiting. For dogs, we highly recommend using a standard six-foot leash.  If you use a retractable leash, please keep it locked at no longer than six feet in length.  We are also more than happy to do check-in and check-out procedures in the exam room to minimize animal-to-animal interaction as much as possible.

Fear Free Hospital Design Reducing Pet Stress at Hospital

We recently began providing pheromone infused bandanas that speak to your pets’ sense of smell and act as natural calming agents. The pheromone bandanas, which are species specific (Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats) can be applied to your dog’s collar or attached to the door of your cat’s carrier; your pet can also enjoy the bandanas on the car ride home!

Fear Free Vet Visits: Pheromone scented towls lessen stress and anxiety

Pheromones are compounds that are naturally secreted by animals so that they can communicate with members of the same species, generally to help them feel safe and secure. Clinically-proven synthetic pheromones Adaptil and Feliway (for dogs and cats respectively) mimic pet’s natural pheromones, helping to reduce stress and anxiety in unfamiliar environments. We have pheromone-scented bandanas to help our pet patients feel calm and relaxed during their visit.

Limiting Food before Your Visit

We encourage you to bring your pet to their appointment hungry so we can create a positive experience with food.  LVH will begin to have a variety of small, high reward treats that can be used as rewards throughout the entire visit.  If your pet has a food allergy or is very particular, then we encourage you to bring their preferred treat from home with you.

Exam Time

Once in the exam room, we prefer to let the cats walk out of their carrier on their own.  If they do not want to leave the carrier, then a majority of the exam can be done in the bottom half of the carrier (this is much easier if you have the more modern snap top lid carriers).

You may notice less white doctor coats (since they can be scary for pets) and more soothing music in the exam rooms.  The staff will interact with your pet using a considerate approach including gentle control handling and minimal restraint.  We attempt to get to know each pet and work with individual personalities instead of forcing them to behave for us.

Since most dogs feel more comfortable with their owners, we will do our best to perform vaccines and other procedures in the exam room to help reduce extra anxiety.   Does your pet feel more comfortable on the floor instead of on the higher exam table?  No problem! We’ll come down to them – placing mats or towels on the floor, performing the exam where they are most relaxed.

Fear Free Vet Visits - Leesburg Veterinary Hospital

Making pets feel comfortable and “at home” is a basic principle of a Fear Free exam. This means we’ll come to them, performing the exam where they are most relaxed.

Conditioning Pets to Happy Visits

The earlier pets have a positive association with the vet, the better.  We highly recommend bringing puppies (and even kittens) to our practice as often as possible during their younger months.  Early positive experiences help build a foundation of trust and familiarity.

For older pets, schedule a “fun visit” without examination or treatment.  Stop in just to say hi, get loved on with lots of hugs, belly rubs, and treats.  This type of conditioning helps your pet think of the vet as a happy place, instead of where they’re taken to be poked and prodded.

It is important to realize that these steps alone will not automatically turn a very fearful pet into a happy easy-going patient.  With time and repetition, though,  we hope that very fearful pets will become less anxious and enjoy coming to see us.

For pets that do not respond to positive counterconditioning techniques, we also have a variety of very safe, anti-anxiety medication protocols that we can tailor to your dog or cat’s needs.

Our entire team is excited to work with you to provide the most positive veterinary experience possible for your pet. Please follow our Facebook page and blog to see more updates and changes as we strive to lead the way in Fear Free veterinary medicine in Northern Virginia!

~Dr. Jennifer Boyle



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