Albuquerque Journal Article – Fear Free Handling Saves Lives

I recently shared the story of Sherman, a well-loved cat with long-standing defensive-aggression in veterinary clinics. It was so bad that his people quit taking him for routine wellness exams. As a result his kidney failure wasn’t diagnosed until its advanced stage.

Cats have become the most popular pets in America because busy people assume that they’re low maintenance. That badly flawed notion is widely believed because cats hardly ever complain. These pets are actually very different than you and I. Sometimes referred to as socially asocial, cats certainly form relationships but they don’t rely on them for survival. Except when caring for their young, they don’t naturally look out for each other. When they’re well they are predators. But if they’re feeling weak and puny they get small to avoid being prey. This is not how humans operate but if we’re going to have feline companions we’d better play the hand we’re dealt and treat our cats like cats. They are not human wannabees, not little people in furry suits.

So how can you know if your cat is sick or well? Since you can’t rely on them to limp if their leg hurts or puff and blow if they’re struggling to breathe you’ll need to be observant in ways that are not intuitively human. It’s a different twist on the Golden Rule. Rather than treating them as we would like to be treated we must learn to treat them as they need to be treated. Anything less relegates their wellbeing to dumb luck.

Given this communication challenge cat parents and veterinarians carry a huge responsibility. Kitties are remarkably skilled at feigning good health. They really do need annual exams. We can finesse them through it using the methods of a recently developed initiative called Fear Free. Veterinarians and their staffs can become certified. I am residency trained in the specialty of veterinary behavior medicine.  I’m a true believer in Fear Free. I was credentialed early.

Fear Free encompasses excellent methods for helping pets who are frightened or who’ve already learned to react to veterinarians with defensive aggression. Several veterinary facilities in New Mexico are certified Fear Free. Look for the logo on their websites.


Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video or podcast to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.