Fear Free

Reduce pet stress with Fear Free® treat ladders.

Reduce pet stress with Fear Free® treat ladders.

If there's one thing most pets love, it's treats. A favorite treat can reduce pet stress, creating a sense of safety for cats and dogs. This can be a valuable tool for any vet visit, especially when you and your veterinarian are working with a particularly stressed dog or cat who wants to be anywhere but the vet! 

Fear Free® vet clinics implement what is called a treat ladder to distract cats or dogs from the exam and help them feel more at ease. 

How does a treat ladder work? 

Don't let the simplicity of a treat ladder obscure its incredible effectiveness! A treat ladder consists of three rungs: low-value, moderate-value, and high-value pet treats. The veterinarian will offer treats of increasing value according to the pet's fear, anxiety, and stress levels.

  • A low-value treat would be a snack that the pet might get on a regular basis at home. They like it and it tastes familiar, but it's nothing to drool over. Crunchy treats are usually considered low-value for both cats and dogs. 
  • A moderate-value treat is the next level up, and includes treats reserved for special occasions. Examples of moderate-value treats for dogs include beef jerky or banana slices. With cats, try soft and chewy meat-flavored snacks. Deeeelicious. 
  • A high-value treat is the one that dances through our four-legged friends' dreams: peanut butter or sausages for dogs, a spoonful of wet food or bonito flakes for cats. Now we're talking!  

Essentially, a veterinarian will assess a cat or dog's stress level at the beginning of their appointment as well as their treat preference. Usually—unless the pet is experiencing a very low amount of stress—Fear Free veterinarians will start with a moderate-to-high-value treat to start. As the pet's stress increases, so does the value of the treat. 

Sometimes, depending on the individual pet's likes and dislikes, the treat ladder will include non-food items, such as a favorite toy, chin scratches, or brushing. 

The treats and rewards within the treat ladder are used to foster a positive association with the vet for the cat or dog. Their preferences will be recorded in their emotional profile to inform future visits. 


How can you create a treat ladder at home? 

Working with a treat ladder at home can make seeing the vet easier for your pet and you. Prior to your appointment, you can experiment with which treats your pet finds the most desirable. Try out familiar treats and experiment with more creative options. For instance, did you know dogs love sweet potatoes? And cats go nuts for green olives? 

Try not to feed your pet right before your vet visit, as the treat ladder is more effective when a pet is hungry!

What if the treat ladder doesn't work? 

Fear Free veterinarians will follow the two-refusal rule, meaning if a pet denies a certain food or toy twice, the vet will move up to the next rung of the treat ladder with something even more tempting. 

However, if the pet continues to show high levels of fear, anxiety, or stress even with high-value treats, it may be best to pause the exam. At this point, a Fear Free veterinarian will discuss other way of helping to address your pet's stress. They may even recommend a Papaya Comfort Visit to build their confidence and create a positive association with the vet.  


The information in this blog is reviewed and approved by the Fear Free Certified veterinarians at Papaya Pet Care.

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