Tips for a Fear Free pet vaccination

Getting vaccinated is no walk in the park for dogs and cats. Along with private veterinary practices, veterinary teams in animal shelters, community clinics, and spay/neuter programs have to do a lot of vaccinating, Because August is Immunization Awareness Month, Fear Free founder Dr. Marty Becker shared with us his tips for taking the fear, anxiety, and stress out of the process for dogs and cats.

First, use the smallest possible needle to get the job done. “I know a lot of veterinarians say the size of the needle doesn’t make a big difference in the comfort and acceptance of canine and feline vaccines,” Becker said. “But try telling a human diabetic that needle size doesn’t matter. Or let me give you vaccinations for overseas travel with a needle designed to drain an abscess on a horse. I think in this instance, we can all agree size matters.”

Before Fear Free, he said, he would display the needle and syringe “like a light saber in Star Wars. I, the veterinarian, was all powerful and only I could inject this amazing life-saving liquid into just the right spot on the pet. I was wrong. So wrong. I might have seen the delivery of a high-tech product as something to showcase but the pet saw it as a ‘weapon of ass destruction’ to be plunged into their rump.”

With Fear Free, the recommendation is to use two needles, the first to mix and draw out the vaccine (used two to four times) and a smaller, new needle to deliver the vaccine into the pet. The pet never sees the needle/syringes, because they’re hidden under a pheromone-impregnated towel.

“On the human side, they’re using a lot of spray lidocaine to freeze and deaden,” he said. “We can’t use the spray cans in veterinary medicine because of the disturbing sound, but I’ve found lidocaine/prilocaine cream works very well. We use the product before venipuncture, vaccinations, injections of antibiotics and other products, examining a torn nail, or other sensitive area.

Rewards are the next important step for anyone vaccinating a pet — and what’s more, they can make the entire process move more quickly and with fewer people involved in restraint, both important in high-volume environments such as an animal shelter or community clinic. “I can’t emphasize enough, that tasty treats aren’t the only reward we can give pets,” Becker added. “They also crave physical touch whether it’s a grooming tool on the side of the neck, chest or base of the tail, therapeutic massage, or pressing the so-called ‘valium points,’ which can soothe the fearful animal.”

When vaccinating, he suggestes, always use at a minimum, both distraction and desensitizing techniques. Here are the steps he recommends:

1. Deaden by using lidocaine/prilocain topically.

2. Distract by using a tasty treat, a tennis ball,  petting/massage, a Kong-sicle, catnip, or anything else the pet likes that’s practical in the setting.

3. Before vaccinating, dimple or pinch the skin a little bit in the spot you want the needle to puncture the skin.

4. Deliver the vaccine/antibiotics slowly.