What Fear Free Means for Your Pet

PART 1: What are the origins of Fear Free? What exactly is a Fear Free experience for my pet?

Fear Free was founded by Dr. Marty Becker, a well-established veterinarian, in 2016. He has dedicated his life to creating a better life for pets and the people who care for them, including veterinary staff, pet professionals, and owners alike.


Fear Free takes a thoughtful approach to human-animal interaction and emphasizes the importance of creating an environment that is less stressful for our furry friends. The goal is to avoid creating a negative association towards veterinary care and to build a system of trust between not only us and the animals, but between veterinary staff and owners. 


The Fear Free mission statement and mantra of Arizona Veterinary Ambulance is “to prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety, and stress in pets by inspiring and educating the people who care for them.” You may be asking yourself how that actually gets integrated into our practice and how it differs from other traditional practices. We’ll delve into that in PART 2….

Serena Causey, AS, CVT          


What Fear Free Means for Your Pet

PART 2: What exactly is a Fear Free experience for my pet? What roles do pheromones and food play?

From the moment Arizona Veterinary Ambulance arrives at your home, we have prepped the vehicle to accommodate even our most nervous and fearful patients by integrating the use of a few standard tools: Pheromones, Food, and iCalm Music.



A pheromone is “a chemical substance produced and released into the environment by an animal, affecting the behavior or physiology of others of its species.” Pheromones play an important role in communication and social signaling and can have an impact on anything from reproduction to emotion.

Scientists have been able to extract and isolate canine and feline pheromones that specifically have a calming effect. These have been formulated to be used as a spray, diffuser, or collar. The spray is designed to be put on things your pet may be coming into contact with, such as a carrier or a towel, while the diffuser helps to disperse these pheromones into a larger area. We use both to help create a more inviting environment for your pet and to reduce stress when being handled. 


If you’re interested in utilizing pheromone products in your own home or just want more information, please follow these links: (for dogs) and (for cats).


It may not come as a surprise, but most animals are very receptive to food and treats. Food can be used as a form of reinforcement (the action or process of strengthening) or in simpler terms….a reward.


We integrate the use of food at our practice to try and create a positive association, particularly with certain parts of an exam or a treatment that may be scary or less favorable to your pet. The goal is to counter-condition their fear response by providing something that has a positive connotation. 

We’ll continue to talk about the AVA Fear Free experience in PART 3….

Serena Causey, AS, CVT              


What Fear Free Means for Your Pet

PART 3: What exactly is a Fear Free experience for my pet? What role does iCalm music play?


“Sometimes music is the only medicine the heart and soul need.” It’s no secret that music can be powerful and communicative. It can incite a variety of emotions and influence our mood. But did you know music has that same effect on cats and dogs?!


A company called iCalm created the Bioacoustic Research & Development Project to build upon previous research completed by Dr. Deborah Wells, which initially looked at the influence of various types of auditory stimulation in dogs. Via two pilot studies, it was determined that classical music with a slower tempo and a simple arrangement had a calming effect on domesticated cats and dogs.


“Through a Dog’s Ear” and “Through a Cat’s Ear” were compositions created to be played in veterinary settings and also at home, to help alleviate anxiety. You will always hear this playing in the background while your pet is receiving care inside of our vehicle. 


If you want to see the research, learn more about how the studies were conducted, check out the array of products they provide, or want to look into making a purchase, then definitely check out this link:

Stay tuned for PART 4 to learn how we recognize stress in pets...

Serena Causey, AS, CVT                 


What Fear Free Means for Your Pet

PART 4: How do we recognize stress in pets? What do you mean by Fear Free handling?

How do we recognize stress in pets? 


The biggest challenge we face as veterinary professionals is not being able to communicate verbally with our patients. They can’t hold a conversation and explain their symptoms, thoughts, or fears to us. But what they lack in verbal skills, they make up for in body language and reaction.


An animal will tell you a lot of things about their mental state and mood through a multitude of physical gestures, you just have to know what you’re looking for. Dogs and cats alike can display subtle or obvious forms of stress and fear. Something as small as the size of their pupils to the position of their tail can be very informative. Being able to identify these subtle indications, is fundamental to being able to counteract a negative experience before it escalates.


As a Fear Free practice, we observe your pet’s stress level while they’re visiting with us and input it into your pet's emotional medical record (EMR). Using the Fear Free FAS (fear, anxiety, and stress) scale, we can track how your pet responds to certain stimuli and make adjustments accordingly during future visits. 


What do you mean by Fear Free handling? 


Handling or restraint involves the “use of manual, chemical, or mechanical means to limit some or all of an animal's normal voluntary movement for the purposes of examination, collection of samples, drug administration, therapy, or manipulation.”


Proper handling ensures not only our safety but the safety of your pet. Being restrained can be scary for our animals and can result in them reacting unfavorably. Some may get more aggressive or will try to get away, acting out on a need for self-preservation. 


As Fear Free professionals, we opt to avoid a bad experience by utilizing restraint techniques that do not intensify your pet’s stress levels. In true Fear Free form, we are “taking the ‘pet’ out of petrified!” 

Serena Causey, AS, CVT                 


What’s Your Pet’s Mouth Telling You?

The Importance of Teeth Cleaning and Oral Health Care for Your Furry Friend

PART 1: What is dental disease?

Dogs and cats will develop dental disease over time. Bacteria loves to accumulate in their mouths in the form of a filmy material called plaque. Over time, this plaque hardens into tartar and adheres to the tooth structure. If it is not removed in a timely manner, it travels below the gumline and creates an environment for gingivitis, periodontal disease, infections, and a variety of other complications.


Contrary to what you may believe, dental disease can also have systemic effects, which is just a fancy way of saying that your mouth isn’t the only thing it takes a toll on… Believe it or not, that exact same bacteria can get into the bloodstream, and it ultimately travels to other organs in the body such as the kidneys, liver, lungs, and hearts of our furry friends. With time, that bacteria can manifest into a number of organ disease complications. Scary right?! There’s a reason periodontal disease is called the “Silent Killer.” 


Arizona Veterinary Ambulance performs full dental procedures right on our mobile veterinary clinic at your home in Tucson and the surrounding areas!

Serena Causey, AS, CVT            

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What’s Your Pet’s Mouth Telling You?

The Importance of Teeth Cleaning and Oral Health Care for Your Furry Friend

PART 2: What is performed during a dental?

The goal of a dental is to decrease pain and discomfort and increase overall health by means of removing the causes of inflammation and dental disease. This includes plaque and tartar buildup from above AND below the gumline. Arizona Veterinary Ambulance performs full dental procedures right on our mobile veterinary clinic at your home in Tucson and the surrounding areas! We have a standard of care for every pet we have the pleasure of helping.


First and foremost, every animal has a before photo taken of their teeth for comparative value! We start the procedure by applying a product that makes plaque and tartar more prominent. Once that is applied, we meticulously scale your pet’s teeth to remove that plaque and tartar buildup with our ultrasonic scaler (essentially, what gets used on you when you take a trip to the dentist).


Dr. Wirth will then thoroughly check the structure of your pet’s teeth and gumline using specific probing devices to measure the degree of dental disease present. From there, we take dental x-rays to look for any abnormalities we cannot visualize with the naked eye. These can be pivotal in determining if a tooth is viable or if extraction is necessary.


Regardless of whether or not your pet needs extractions, we will always do a laser therapy treatment of the mouth. Laser therapy has been shown to significantly reduce gingivitis, pain, and expedite healing! 

We finish by polishing your pet’s teeth and applying fluoride to slow down future plaque buildup. The last step is the after picture to show off your pet’s pearly whites!


Stay tuned for Part 3, when we talk about why toothbrushing just isn't enough!

Serena Causey, AS, CVT             


What’s Your Pet’s Mouth Telling You?

The Importance of Teeth Cleaning and Oral Health Care for Your Furry Friend

PART 3: Why isn’t toothbrushing enough?

Brushing your furry friend’s teeth is a phenomenal way to combat dental disease. It helps remove plaque before it can form into tartar, and toothbrushing can also reduce gingivitis and bad breath. While it can be a great supplemental therapy for your animal’s oral health, there are a few things that cannot be alleviated by simply brushing.


Unfortunately, if your pet already has tartar buildup, brushing does nothing to remove it or break it down, leaving your pet vulnerable to bad breath, gum disease, and tooth decay. Even as humans, we’re advised to visit the dentist every 6 months for a cleaning, despite brushing our teeth daily. This is because no matter how thorough we are, there will always be areas we are unable to clean efficiently. The same goes for your fur child!


Stay tuned for Part 4, when we talk about why true dental cleanings can only be performed under anesthesia!

Serena Causey, AS, CVT            

What’s Your Pet’s Mouth Telling You?

The Importance of Teeth Cleaning and Oral Health Care for Your Furry Friend

PART 4: Does a dental really need to be done under anesthesia?

Some online resources would have you believe that it is not necessary to have a dental performed under anesthesia….


All jokes aside, there are a variety of reasons why we, in the veterinary field, elect to do a dental under anesthesia. As veterinary professionals, we take an oath to dedicate ourselves to aiding animals and relieving suffering within a standard of specific ethics. Electing to do a dental without anesthesia, undermines that oath for several reasons. While we know we are making good decisions for our pets, they do not necessarily understand why things are being done to them. What we perceive as good, can be scary and unknown and can actually become a negative experience that manifests into a negative association towards veterinary care. We want to avoid creating that association, and one way we achieve that is with anesthesia. According to the American Veterinary Dental College, inhalant anesthesia allows for “cooperation of the patient with a procedure it does not understand, elimination of pain resulting from examination and treatment of affected dental tissues during the procedure, and protection of the airway and lungs from accidental aspiration.” Let’s break this down a little….


Animals can display an array of different emotions when coming to the vet. Some are super friendly and excited by the influx of people they meet. Others are shy and skittish, submissive and avoidant. Some may be downright fearful and aggressive/reactive. No matter the scenario, imagine trying to get any of these animals to stay still long enough, not only to examine them as a whole, but to do a thorough examination of their mouth. Even the most well behaved animal has a threshold, making it virtually impossible. If a stranger came in poking and probing your mouth, you’d probably be a little weirded out, to say the least.


Now imagine, first agitating the animal with the oral exam, and then proceeding to attempt a cleaning while they’re still awake. If they barely tolerated a few fingers in their mouth, how receptive do you think they’d be to metal scraping against their teeth? Add in an ultrasonic cleaner to assist in the process, and it’s game over. This modality applies ultrasonic vibrations and a constant water flow to the teeth to remove that stuck on tartar. An animal could easily choke on or swallow this bacteria-laden water during this process, and this puts them at high risk for aspiration. Aspiration can lead to pneumonia and subsequent complications. 


One of the benefits of having pets under anesthesia during the dental cleaning is that we are required to intubate them. Intubation is the process of placing a tube in the trachea to supply oxygen and anesthetic gas. There is a balloon near the end of the tube that fills to fit within the tubular structure of the trachea, so that it acts not only as a securing measure but also provides a barrier between the lungs and any material within the oral cavity or material that may come up from the stomach. My point is, why risk a lung infection if we don’t have to?


Moreover, what happens if they are painful when you get to a certain tooth or simply won’t sit still any longer? They run the risk of not only becoming injured with sudden movement, but they also risk the safety of the staff. This is where our ethics come into play. We never want to cause pain and none of us want to get bitten as a compromise. If you’re going to be spending the money, why not have it done right the first time and without all the melodrama? Our mantra is Fear Free, and we stick to it!

Serena Causey, AS, CVT           

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