Is your pet scared of your veterinarian? Does she turn into a quivering mass of fur at the first turn in the direction of the veterinary hospital? Do his hackles rise at the sight of the kitty kennel? Does she put on the brakes, hide under chairs or howl when the fecal rod is revealed? Or is he so terrified he’s transformed into a growling, snapping land-shark when the veterinary staff approaches?

Veterinary phobia is not a hot button issue among veterinarians. Most of us don’t lay awake at night thinking about the many pet patients who fear us. Nor do we typically spend as much as a tiny fraction of our working life attempting to change our hospital policies to address our patients’ anxiety-based issues.

It’s not that we don’t care…because we do—if not for our patients’ feelings, then for the integrity of our own skin. But we accept it as the price of doing business in a field we love, even if it does strike us as a tremendous irony, this veterinary phobia our patients experience.

After all, most of us adore animals and don’t particularly enjoy the display of fearful emotions we’re treated to—especially when we’d love nothing better than a mascara-smearing swipe of the tongue or a delicate purr and a forceful head-butt.

Yet not everyone agrees that we should take our lumps when it comes to our patients’ veterinary phobia. Some veterinarians are progressively pushing our profession to reconsider its tacit acceptance of terrified pets as the veterinary hospital norm.

Moreover, they see many of the hospital tactics we’ve always employed as justifiably inciting undue fear. They want us all to rethink our strategies at the hospital policy level to create a warmer, gentler environment for our patients.

Dr. Rolan Tripp is one such veterinary professional. He’s so dedicated to this concept that he’s launched a campaign to raise awareness of veterinary phobia with a fee-based "Pet Perception Management" manual and "Pet Centered Practice" online program.

Via these materials, Tripp aims to educate veterinary hospitals and pet owners on how to prevent veterinary phobia. He runs the online, Animal Behavior Network by way of distributing this basic information widely. Through it, he also offers a range of for-profit services in his capacity as a behavior consultant of sorts for veterinary practice. 

Sure, it’s a profit-building enterprise for Dr. Tripp, but the concept of a gentler pet practice is one that deserves more than just glancing consideration. Here are some of his basic recommendations:

1. Veterinarians and staff should routinely administer treats to distract pets from any noxious stimulus that might increase their sensitivity to future visits (during vaccines, blood draws and rectal temperature-taking, for example).

2. Fecal samples should be collected at home and brought in (whenever possible) to spare our pet what’s often the worst moment in their entire visit.

3. If possible, pets should have good experiences at the vet’s place independent of their healthcare visits. This includes drive-by visits for weighing, treats and pettings…or play sessions for puppies and non-aggressive candidates.

Aside from the obvious animal welfare and staff-safety arguments proposed by this “pet centered” philosophy of practice, Dr. Tripp and others (myself included) believe that calmer pets produce less stress-clouded results on diagnostic testing. Physical exams are more complete. And owners are more satisfied with our services.

For my part, I’ve always been a big believer in gentle medicine’s benefits. Not only does it mean that cats are quieter, dogs are more docile, clients are contented and the medicine’s more doable, it also means that my job’s significantly less stressful and infinitely more fun. And how can you argue with that?