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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Certifications - what's in a name?

yummy treats, wagging tails, padded tables - these is all part of
low stress veterinary care 
Over the past 7 years there has been a focus on creating a less stressful care experience at the veterinary clinic.  A number of  certification programs now exist to help both the practice and the consumer provide this experience.  I have witnessed the growth of the Cat Friendly Practice from the American Association of Feline Practitioners (  )  the Low Stress Handling Certification program from Cattledog publishing, the legacy of Dr Sophia Yin, and the Fear Free Certification program . 

These programs are one way for veterinary staff to learn these skills. There are seminars, webinars, text books on handling and interactive handling labs as well.  A practice may approach bringing a less stressful care experience to you combining some of these resources - certified by a program or not.

At Okaw Veterinary clinic, a small animal practice in rural central Illinois which I owned, my staff and I created a low stress culture before these certification programs started.  Dr Yin was a friend, and asked if I would have my staff take her program to evaluate it and become one of the first clinics certified.  We did and it was a good investment of time and knowledge that elevated my staff's skills to a new level.  This program was intense in the behavior education and specific handling techniques.  The other programs covered material and standards that we already had in place, so it was not worth the expense to do these.  These are great programs, yet we were already at the certified level, so paying for these programs and associated costs was not going to gain anything for my practice in my community. 

As the 3 certification programs have become established in veterinary medicine, there is broad choice for clients to find practitioners who create a less stressful care experience.  I am also witnessing some practices becoming certified, only to  the branding that certification can bring.  It is a tricky business to be sure that one who carries a certification is following the standards.  You may find non certified practices following positive care standards very well.  

hands on teaching of Low Stress Feline handling 
So, you are a pet owner.  You want a veterinary practice that is competent with medical care, knows how to be nice to your pet, keeps their costs at an affordable level for you, has convenient hours, reliable staff, and a well maintained operation.  As a past practice owner, I can assure you this is no small task.  It became much easier for me to provide all these things as I took the steps to create a low stress clinic.  For some practices, the cost of certification and maintaining that cost may be a factor in whether or not you see any logos from certification.   In a more populated area, having this certification can make a distinction for a practice - a way for clients to choose and that is important.  In smaller areas, a practice may not be certified yet they may be providing a positive care experience.   Each program has a cost ranging from a one time fee of $330/person, to annual fees upwards of thousands of dollars per year in a large practice.  Some programs have corporate sponsorship and others do not.  So like anything else, there needs to be a return or value for the cost of the program for a practice to take part.  In a competitive environment, there may be practices who are certified in name only, to market themselves.

The good news is that all 3 of these programs are working towards the same goal - improve the experience of the animal in care.  As I say Every Day, Every Way with Every Animal - Low Stress.
There is a bit of overlap, so as a consumer or professional how do you pick?  I work for Dr Yin's company that publishes the Low Stress Handling Certification program.  I was an author for the Fear Free program.  When veterinary staff ask me "which one should I chose to take?"  I ask them  " What do you see as your primary need for reducing patient stress?  What do you want to focus on for your practice?"  If one wants to  improve the feline experience  - take the Cat Friendly Practice program.  If you have a large staff, and want to quickly provide  everyone with fundamental  understanding of fear, and the benefits of pre visit meds, take the Fear Free program.   If you need  improved handling skills for the animal in care, with less dependence on pre medication, take the Low Stress Handling program.  There is overlap to these programs, and if a practice is certified in one, there are resources, articles and educational materials that are available to blend some of the advantages of each.  In the end, it is the experience for the patient that matters most.

As a consumer, how do you choose?  I suggest you look at each website's directory of certified professionals as a start.  No matter if you find a certified professional or not, always  ask these questions when investigating  the clinics in your area.

Do you do everything in the exam room or take them to the back?    Providing care in the exam room is the best way to provide a positive experience.  If they always " go in the back"  that can increase stress.  Find a clinic that avoids this.

Do you provide treats for my pet or should I bring my own?  If the clinic is surprised by suggesting food for exams, they are not a low stress practice.  You can also ask about bringing a toy or favorite blanket - the attitude should be one of appreciating your efforts to reduce your pet's stress.

Can we split up care if my pet is getting stressed?   You should hear a plan for the most important care first, with an eye for possibly splitting up care to help prevent increasing fear.  The days of "getting it all done " are not the focus now.  Taking care of the most important needs, while keeping it pet friendly is the focus now.

Does certification matter?  Yes, but it is not everything.  The particular  program is not as important in my opinion  compared to  holding  the standard of less stressful care.  I have seen non certified practices holding a higher standard than those certified.  In the end, it is the care experience that matters - does your pet like coming in? Are they  becoming more calm and relaxed with every exam?

 Helping your pet have a positive veterinary  experience requires your participation as well. Every practitioner involved in low stress care encourages happy visits, where  your dog gets a quick treat at the reception desk,  can step on the scale, get a reward and go home.  You are encouraged to keep your cat carrier out in the living room to help your cat like it.  Being open to giving your cat  supplements and medications to reduce anxiety for your helps tremendously.

I hope this articles helps you with providing or receiving a kinder,  positive experience that is centered on knowing your pet.

A favorite photo of me, Butterscotch and Bella outside Okaw,  which has passed on to Dr Kyla Kuhns, an
excellent veterinarian.  I now travel speaking, consulting and creating webinars to continue
build the low stress veterinary care experience