“Dedicated to providing gentle, compassionate care for companion animals”

 
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Tabitha is a beautiful, active tabby kitten who was adopted from a rescue organization when she was just three months old.  She was initially quite healthy, but soon started having problems with discharge from her nose, trouble breathing, and conjunctivitis in her eyes.  Many kittens with a background and symptoms like Tabitha have a viral upper respiratory infection. Unfortunately, Tabitha only improved partially with treatment. She continued to have trouble breathing, especially when she would play with her housemate and friend, Tiger Lily.  

When Tabitha underwent anesthesia to be spayed at the Animal Wellness Center, we looked behind her soft palate and noticed a large benign mass called a nasopharyngeal polyp.  Polyps are a common problem in young cats, and can occur in the back of the nose or inside the ears.  They can cause a range of problems, from trouble breathing to chronic ear infections.  Tabitha's polyp was removed, leaving her nose clear and her breathing easy!  We are so grateful for the ability to help our special friends like Tabitha.

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Dr. Carolyn Apker, owner of the Animal Wellness Center of Maple Grove

 

What does “Fear Free” mean?

It means: Every staff member of the Animal Wellness Center is devoted to the physical AND psychological welfare of every patient.

We want to put every pet under our care at ease so that they are not experiencing fear or anxiety. It is a well documented fact that calm and comfortable patients (dog, cat and human) recover more quickly and completely than their nervous counterparts. Your pet deserves the best every step of the way.

What can you expect from the AWC team as a result of our commitment?

We will handle all patients gently and in a way that reassures them we are on their side.

We will be constantly attentive to your pet’s mental and psychological state and will respond to their fear or anxiety with gentle reassurance and patience until they are calm. If we need to schedule the events of an appointment over several short, happy visits we are happy to do so. If your pet needs a small dose of medication prior to their visit… we know what works.

We will meet their need for mental and physical comfort and be ready to adjust our handling and treatments accordingly.

You can absolutely expect every member of our staff to treat your beloved pet as their own. Being afraid is not okay. Physical force and coercion are not okay. And yes, we know this commitment will require extra time for the doctor, staff and the pet owner. That is okay, because they are worth it!

When will these changes take place?

We have been implementing them for almost two years. AWC is one the nation’s first hospitals to make this paradigm shift and to be actively working on Hospital Certification in Low Stress Handling. Dr. Apker has been sitting on the Advisory Board for the Fear Free Practice Movement for over two years. She has been actively working with a team of Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorists, is a committee chair for the American Veterinary Animal Behavior Society and AWC is very proud to already be Gold Level Certified as a Feline Friendly Practice.

My pet has always been afraid at the veterinary hospital; can you really help her at her age?

Absolutely! We have the knowledge and the skill to meet every patient at their level of need. Sometimes this is a series of happy visits to the hospital to get praise, petting and their favorite treats. Then, home they go! The purpose is to replace their apprehension of the hospital with the expectation that really great things happen for them when they come to visit.

If that sounds too good to be true, think about waiting for your next procedure at your medical clinic. You may feel a little nervous, time drags by and you see other patients come out in various stages of distress. Your pulse and blood pressure creep up. You feel some butterflies and your head jerks up every time the medical assistant calls the next patient back. In between are long silences and old magazines. Then they call your name and lead you into the back room for who knows what procedure. Augh!

How would that experience change for you if the music was calming, the other patients appeared happy, some lovely staff member would appear randomly with ten dollar bills for you (okay, in your pet’s case, they would be dispensing your absolute over-the-top, all- time favorite treat or toy)? How would that impact your feelings toward your health care provider?

Some pets have more severe anxieties and by the time they are at the hospital they have reached a panic stage. We can help alleviate their level of arousal with a small, very safe, quick acting, anxiety reducing medication. The medication is best given at home with a yummy treat and the pet is left alone for the next 1-2 hours in a dimly lighted, quiet environment to relax before you pick up your keys. This approach is win-win for your furry family member, you and the hospital staff. Why? Because a truly terrified individual cannot learn a different emotional response to their situation. Fear and survival instincts crowd out the brain’s ability to process information. The gentle medication gives them the opportunity to learn that they are still safe and coming to see the veterinarian can be a happy event.

What about when I need to leave my pet at the hospital for intensive care or to see a specialist while I go back to work?

This is a really loving question. You love your pet so dearly that you are concerned about his emotional welfare when he is left in our care. Asking it makes you a wonderful pet owner because it shows you have a deep bond with your pet. We are all pet owners too who adore our furry babies and never want them to experience negative emotions.

Your pet will be continually assessed for signs of stress or distress. We make adjustments in our patient care/handling on an ongoing basis to find the cause for their discomfort and change what is needed so that we are providing humane care for their mental and physical well being at all times. Sometimes they feel isolated and want more companionship or the reverse could be true. Sometimes using soft lighting and music is comforting. Some love to watch the action of staff and pets moving through the treatment room, for others that’s too much visual stimulation and they are happier in a quiet spot snuggling with just one staff person.

Our goal, our duty is to meet each pet at their point of need and to truly make their visits to the veterinarian less stressful and fear free!

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The Wellness Center in Maple Grove is what every veterinary clinic and grooming salon should strive to be. Their commitment to fear-free care and low stress handling has made a huge impact on my dogs quality of life and my own experience going to the vet and the groomer, in a remarkably short time. Every single staff member has been knowledgeable, friendly and most importantly wonderful with my very anxious dog Oslund. We’ve taken full advantage of coming in for “Happy Visits”- that help him to feel more relaxed in the space and during our visits, the staff has been exceptionally helpful, allowing us to sniff around an unused exam room and hang out in the lobby.

I’m extremely impressed with the quality of care, of the veterinary clinic. Breckyn and Dr. Moyer were wonderful with Oslund. It was apparent that they had a vast amount of experience and knowledge as well as a gentle, relaxed and confident way of using low-stress handling with Oslund that put both him and I at ease. I am happy to say that we had our first completely positive experience at the vet at the Wellness Center.

Abby, the grooming manager, is without-a-doubt the absolute best groomer in the state. Her experience and passion for grooming are apparent as well as her knowledge of animal behavior and low stress handling- which all contribute to the high level of care that she provides to the dogs and cats that are lucky enough to be groomed by her.  I was so happy to work with her and the lead trainer Jenny to make Oslunds experience at the groomer much more positive for him. I will be bringing Oslund to Abby for the rest of his life, as well as every other dog that I own, for as long as she is grooming.

I would highly recommend the Wellness Center in Maple Grove for veterinary care, grooming and training. I would also recommend calling them and talking to them about why using low-stress handling and fear-free care will benefit your pet at the vet and groomer.

Thank you!

-Megan Janning, CPDT-KA

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Theo is an indoor cat. I’ve never let him outside because it is too dangerous. He spends hours on his hammock in the window of our living room. We even put a bird feeder outside so he can watch the birds and squirrels. One evening a couple of weeks ago I heard him screaming and yowling. It sounded like he was being killed. When I got to the living room, I could see him standing on his window perch, back arched and hair on end. He was staring through the window at another cat and still screaming. I ran to pick him up to get him out of there and get him to calm down. As soon as I picked him up he bit me twice really hard. His eyes looked like he was looking right through me. Theo dug his back claws into my arm and launched off running down the hall. I was just trying to help, why did he attack me?

Theo wasn’t attacking you; in fact, he didn’t even realize it was you who picked him up. However, at the time you were scratched and bleeding and I am sure it felt pretty personal. You were reaching for bandages and feeling crushed that the kitty you were trying to comfort turned on you. Having been on the receiving end of this situation myself, I truly feel for you. What happened?

The term feline behavior specialists use for this is Redirected or Displaced Aggression. When a cat is confronted with a perceived threat in close proximity to itself, in this case the cat outside the window, it experiences an overwhelming sense of fear. Pupils dilate, the pulse races, breathing speeds up, and the muscles become supercharged with blood all to prepare the body for a fight or flight response. In this highly aroused state a cat doesn’t have the mental space to decide who is friend and who is foe. They will instinctively attack anything that is close to them. Enter you, rushing to his rescue, but for all he knew you were the monster trying to kill him.

This is deeply imbedded, instinctual behavior and you will not be able to change it. These cats are in an “auto-pilot survival” mode. The best thing you can do is to try to minimize the opportunities for this to happen again. If there are free roaming cats around your home, try motion-activated sprinklers or lights to discourage their visits. If you do see the same scenario in the future, do not put yourself in harm’s way. Do not try to touch him. Close the curtains and go out to shoo the other kitty away from the house. Chances are that cat will see you coming and take off before you ever see them. Back indoors, try to get your cat to move out of the room and close the door. He will likely run to his favorite safe spot and hunker down for several hours. He needs time and space for the adrenaline and the other stress hormones to wear off. Cats may go from zero to sixty in a fraction of a second but they need considerably longer to come back to a resting state.

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Help! My new cat is not getting along with the other cats in the house! I have heard this plea from owners and have dealt with this issue in my own household.

It is not uncommon to see some degree of aggression between cats in the same household, especially when one cat is new to the group. When we address any form of inter-cat aggression, It is important to remember that cats are not social creatures and do not live in large packs in the wild the way dogs do. They are often very solitary and hunt on their own. Thus, having more than one cat in a household is automatically not compatible with their natural behavior. However, there are many cats that form social groups within their home territory and co-exist peacefully.

When there is a new cat to the household, there can be many different underlying causes of the aggression. The most common factors are fear and the sudden increased competition for resources (food, resting places, owner attention). Cats also strongly rely on scent as a means of social communication. When cats rub (allo-rubbing) or groom each other (allo-grooming), they are actually swapping scents and forming a unique group scent. When a new cat comes into the house, this cat does not smell like the group and thus the existing cat may show extreme aggression towards this cat as it represents a threat to the group resources.

With treatment, the ultimate aim is to produce a fully functioning social group in which there is minimal aggression. Treatment consists of a combination of modifying the environment to meet the needs of the cats and to successfully introduce the new cat to the household with a very gradual process. To help reduce any perceived competition of resources, the number of litter boxes should be increased. Each cat should also have its own water and food dish located in a separate part of the house. It is also important to make sure there are plenty of places for each cat to escape, as a cat’s primary means of controlling interaction with other cats is to maintain distance. Don’t forget about vertical areas as well (such as cat towers).

When introducing new cats, there are several steps that should be taken slowly to maximize the potential for success. To begin, the new cat should be kept separately in a room with its own litter box, food/water dishes and toys. Step 1 consists of taking a cloth and rubbing one cloth on each cat (especially the face). This is to collect the scent from each cat. Then each cat should be presented with another cat’s cloth when going to greet, feed or play with either cat. There may be an initial aggressive response, however, over time the cat should ultimately ignore the odor or react positively. Once this occurs, you can move on to Step 2.

Step 2 consists of taking the cloths with each cats scent (freshly rubbed against each cat) and putting the cloths in a bag so that the odors mix. Then introduce this combined odor to each cat. Once there is a positive response, then rub this mixed odor on your legs and other objects that the cats typically rub against. Once the cats are accepting this new combined odor, then you can move to Step 3.

For step 3, the new cat should be allowed to explore the house while the other cats are excluded or shut in an inaccessible room. Once the cat is acting confident in the house, then the cats need to begin to see each other but without any risk of an aggressive attack (Step 4). You can use a baby gate or some other form of barrier between the cats. They should be given food on either side of the gate and the food should gradually move closer to the screen. Once they are showing no aggressive or fearful behavior, they can be allowed to meet face to face.

 

 

 

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