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Our First Fear Free Vet Appointment: How it Went + What I Learned

How We Found Small Miracles + Fear Free Visits 


I’ve always had an interesting relationship with vet appointments. I understood that they were a part of my cats’ care, but definitely didn’t love them…and neither did my cats. They were stressful for all of us - and because of that, I minimized them as much as possible. 


Full disclosure: I’m Dr. Chorba’s sister. I also work for Small Miracles, managing their website and social media. My current kitties are 8 (Leo) and 2 (Alivia) and have only seen vets in Arizona - including a holistic home vet. So when we moved to Ohio recently, I knew I’d be taking them to Small Miracles. That said, these are my honest opinions - I’m new to Fear Free visits, just like you may be :) 


If you're new(er) to the idea, the Fear Free approach in veterinary care focuses on reducing fear, anxiety, and stress in pets during their visits to the clinic. It involves a combination of gentle handling techniques, a calming environment, and, when necessary, Pre-Visit Pharmaceuticals (PVPs) to ensure a positive experience for your pet.


I’ve been aware of the Fear Free philosophy at Small Miracles for a while now. But I didn’t really have much to compare it to: while I haven’t had any vet experiences that were particularly aggressive, I also haven’t had many (any) that I’d consider Fear Free: I’ve always had nervous kitties who don’t love the vet (or the often noisy, unwelcoming environment)...and who were definitely not enthusiastic about being there. And I thought that was just how it was (and had to be). 



A cat at a Fear Free Vet Visit
Enjoying his Churu

Pre-Visit Nerves (Mine, That Is…)


Since this was all new to me, my biggest fear was definitely that I wouldn’t get the meds right - and I wasn’t really sure what to expect or how my cats would respond. On our cross-country move, I had given both Leo and Alivia small doses of the Gabapentin (also a commonly-used Pre-Visit Pharmaceutical, or "PVP") our Arizona vet had prescribed: but they mostly enjoyed the adventure and didn’t need much. So the medication wasn’t new to them - but I wasn’t sure how different a vet visit would be (i.e., more stress + a higher medication dose).

 

I was definitely nervous: would I be giving them enough of their medication? Would it kick in fast enough? Would they be too sleepy? Not sleepy enough?? Would there be a big difference in a “Fear Free” appointment versus the “regular” kind? Could a vet appointment (for cats!) really be “Fear Free”? 



Relaxed + on our way

Getting Ready + Arriving At the Clinic


When I gave Leo and Alivia their PVPs the morning of our appointment, I put them in the bathroom with their litter box, water, and the carrier. I didn’t want either of them deciding to take a nap under the bed and then not be able to reach them to get them to the appointment on time 😅 After I gave them each their medicine, I let them relax while I got ready to go, so it could kick in. 


When it was time to leave for our appointment, I came in and Leo was calmly resting in the carrier. I could tell he was relaxed. Alivia was winding down…but had been having a pretty energetic day and was still quite a bit more active than Leo.


The drive was pretty easy - especially with their PVP-aided relaxation. When we got to the clinic, I called to let them know I was there. If you have nervous pets and don’t want to chance stressing them in the common waiting area, you can call and let the front desk know you’re in the parking lot and a staff member will let you know once they have a room ready so they can escort you right in. 


Inside, the clinic was relaxing and comfortable, with its Fear Free color palette of soothing greens and blues and friendly staff. Unlike some places we’ve been to (one former vet clinic had bright half-orange, half-white walls), Small Miracles really makes you feel comfortable from the start. 



👀 seeing what’s going on outside of our room

Exploring the Exam Room


Inside the exam room, Leo came right out of the carrier: he was alert and ready to explore. He got a few treats right away from the vet tech Julie - and he was pretty excited about that (they were gone before I could even get my camera out of my coat pocket!). I had actually realized on the drive there that I’d forgotten to pack some of Leo’s favorite treats (a Fear Free recommendation) - but the clinic was prepared, with a few different kinds.


Julie asked some basic questions about what we were there for, how each cat was doing, and whether I had any specific concerns for the doctor. 


Leo proceeded to explore all around the room: the floor, the sink, the small opening in the door that he pressed his face up to, to see what else was going on outside the exam room…


When Dr. Chorba came in, she sat right down on the floor and greeted Leo - who was checking out the mechanics of the underside of the exam table at the time.



Checking Leo’s Eyes

Here’s What Fear Free Visits Are Like 


The vet visit itself went even more smoothly than I’d anticipated. Julie gave Leo treats while Dr. Chorba did a thorough exam, asking questions and explaining what she was doing as she went. 


Leo was thoroughly engaged in his treats. Between those and the PVPs, I’m not sure he even noticed (or, more accurately, cared) that there was an exam going on. 

Alivia was more nervous: but she’s generally less adventurous and more guarded around people she’s not extremely familiar with. She stayed in the carrier for most of Leo’s exam time, but did finally venture out to look around the room. 


For Alivia, who is not treat motivated at all (I’ve tried everything - and she just isn’t interested in treats), they brought out some toys as a way to hold her attention. Dr. Chorba did the exam and Leo helped by eating all of the treats Alivia wasn’t interested in. They were so gentle with her and focused on distracting her with pets and soft reassurance. 


While they were finishing Alivia’s exam, Leo got to explore the rest of the room, sizing up the sink and the height of the cabinets to see if he’d be able to jump all the way up on top.


After the exams were complete, Dr. Chorba went over her findings and answered the few questions I had. 



Getting out some toys

So How Was It…Really?


It’s always a little nerve-wracking to try something new - even when you know that the new will be better than the old. 


There were many aspects of this visit that were just like any other vet appointment you’ve been to: vet instruments, medications, stethoscopes, staff in scrubs. However, there were also a number of differences, even if they were more subtle: pets with less fear and more curiosity, a focus on letting pets explore and get comfortable, and staff that clearly understand and care about the wellbeing of the animals they treat. 


One of the things I had expected was that the cats would be far more “zonked” on the PVPs than they were. In fact, I was surprised to see that they were both alert and active during the appointment. 


I asked about this and Dr. Chorba explained that the goal of PVPs isn’t to make them sleep through the visit or be too “drugged out.” Instead, the goal is to help them relax and lower their stress levels. This helps them to feel more at ease and makes for smoother visits. 


That made a lot of sense - and was definitely how our visit went. Both cats were far more relaxed during this visit than I’d seen them at other vet visits: there was no biting, no hissing, no shaking, and only a small amount of hiding (Alivia is a hider - and that’s okay). And it was clear that the focus was on keeping the cats comfortable while also doing a thorough, professional evaluation of their health. 



Whipped cream got a “no” from Alivia, but a definite “YES” from Leo


Fear Free is Definitely for Us


After seeing how a Fear Free visit actually works, it’s easy to see why the Small Miracles staff has adopted this approach as a cornerstone of their practice: it’s so much more comfortable for everyone involved.


This is truly the best experience we’ve had with vet visits. Both of the cats were treated gently, with confidence and care. Neither was overly stimulated (or scared) when we left - and they also weren’t overly sleepy when we got home (I mean, they’re cats and are definitely napping while I write this - but that’s pretty normal for this time of day). 


I would absolutely recommend Fear Free visits for anyone who cares about the whole health of their pets. I’m so excited that this is how these doctors choose to run their practice - and that I can feel confident that vet appointments won’t be overly traumatic and stressful to my kitties any more. 


I’m also excited to have a place to take them that truly focuses on wellness care - not just sickness care. These are truly vets that are in it for the mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing of your pets: and who make it a point to care for animals in ways that puts their furry needs first. I hope you’ll give it a try - and see how your furry family members’ vet visits can be different (in the best way) from what you might be used to.


xx Kristen, Leo, and Alivia


p.s. Want to learn more about how Fear Free visits support everyone involved? Here are some resources:


Still have questions? Ready to try Fear Free visits? Feel free to call or send a message via the contact box on the home page.



Important sink inspection stuff

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