How to Create Low-Stress Veterinary Visits for Cats

The ominous hissing, the mournful meows, the defensive scratching or biting, the upset bowels — feline stress is just plain unpleasant for cats and you. Many cats get stressed when it’s time for a veterinary visit. Thankfully, there are ways to help cats relax and enjoy the ride — yes, even in the car. Here’s what you can do.

"You want me to go where?" Many cats are frightened of traveling in a car.

1. Transport your cat in a carrier

Putting cats in a carrier on the way to and from the veterinary clinic is extremely important. Cats are often startled by loud noises or other pets, and, if you’re carrying your cat in your hands, you might not be able to hold on if he/she abruptly tries to get away. Also, cats that are allowed to roam freely inside the car face the risk of more severe injury should there be an accident.

2. Choose a hard-plastic carrier with a removable top

Some cats might resist being put into a carrier. But removable tops make getting cats into—and out of—the carrier easier. Simply undo the screws or latches, lift off the top, set the cat in the bottom, and replace the top. This eliminates the need to force the cat inside, which makes the cat — and you — more relaxed.

3. Make the carrier a favorite place

Some cats come to love their carriers. When cats see their carriers as safe, enjoyable places, they’re happy to go into them and feel more safe in scary places, like the car. Use these strategies to create crate-fondness in your cat:

• Leave the carrier out in your house so your cat can access it at any time.

• Make the carrier inviting by putting a favorite blanket or toy in it.

• Every now and then, lay a few treats inside the carrier.

4. Head to the veterinary clinic for “happy visits”

Does your cat seem to bristle at the thought of visiting the veterinarian? Then take it on a few stress-free trial runs. Call the veterinary hospital to ask if the schedule would allow you and your cat to stop in for five or 10 minutes. You won’t be making a medical visit, but rather a mock appointment that allows your cat to experience all the steps of a routine visit without the physical examination. This free-of-charge “happy visit” gives your cat the chance to get used to the sounds and smells of the hospital, meet the veterinary team members, and eat a few treats all while enjoying the safety of its carrier. After some canoodling, you and your cat will head back home.

If a car ride alone puts your cat in a tailspin, entice your cat into its carrier and start by going for a test drive around the block. Continue to take a drive every now and then, gradually increasing the amount of time you and your cat spend in the car. Remember to reward your cat with a treat for being a good passenger. Eventually, you’ll work your way up to doing a drive that will allow you and your cat to make a “happy visit.” Positive reinforcement is the best way to modify feline behavior, so making car rides and veterinary visits pleasant will help decrease your cat’s anxiety.

Source: Kerry Hillard Johnson, FIRSTLINE, veterinaryteam.dvm360.com

At Animal Hospital of North Asheville, we recommend that you cover your cat’s carrier on three sides with a towel before you enter the waiting room and position the carrier to afford your cat privacy. Although we have a waiting room exclusively for cats (no scary dogs), most cats appreciate the towel because it keeps them hidden from the unfamiliar surroundings. We will also use the towel to provide a hiding place for your cat while on the exam table. Please share any individual preferences that your cats has, so we can further reduce any stress that cat may feel during the visit. Thank you for partnering with us to provide the best care for your pet.

Comments

I’m trying to picture taking the top off the carrier and trying to “set the cat in the bottom, and replace the top.” Seriously. Any one of my four cats (even the obese ones) would be out of that carrier in a split second while I was trying to bring the top down on top of them.

Lynne, you make a very good point. Building the cat carrier around a cat is very difficult at home. We really don’t recommend it at home except as a last resort. At Animal Hospitral of North Asheville, we frequently take carriers apart to get cats out because we do not want to stress them by forcing them out. In fact, we often examine cats and do their treatments while they are still in the bottom half of the carrier. They like that better than getting out onto a strange exam table (and we try to keep them covered during the exam, as much as possible, so they feel safe). Once it is time to go home, we rebuild the carrier around the cat, but we have more than one set of hands, and we have a cat who, at that point, would rather be in the carrier than out of it. The only thing that really helps you get the cat into the carrier at home is to “make the carrier a favorite place” as the article recommends. It will not happen overnight, but with time hopefully your cats can lose their fear of their carriers. Just keep the carriers out where they can see them all the time. It may take weeks, but they will venture inside (and may eventually actually start hanging out in them) once they get used to seeing them – especially if you put a treat inside. Thank you for reading our article and caring enough to comment!

Very helpful tips. I appreciate your willingness to make the patients as comfortable as possible. Thank you for going to extra lengths to bring this about.

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