Treats and Other Ways We Keep Your Cat Calm

Last month we wrote about the treats we give to dogs to create a positive and happy atmosphere.  Since cats and dogs can’t understand the benefits of coming in for veterinary care, we use treats, toys, soothing voices and gentle handling to help them think positively about coming in. For instance, by using treats, we can help them focus on getting yummy treats instead of the fact that they are having, for example, blood drawn for a test. Cats, unfortunately, are much less likely to be excited about treats than dogs are, but we still use them and make every effort to reduce stress in our feline patients.  

In the mind of a cat, the veterinary visit actually starts at home, so here are some tips on how to start the visit on the “right foot.” Cats, in general, don’t like unfamiliar surroundings or change. They have an instinct to hide when they are experiencing something unfamiliar. So first of all, you need to make your cat’s carrier “part of your furniture.”  The carrier needs to be seen as a familiar and safe place by your cat.  It is best to have it as part of your cat’s daily living space so that on the morning of an appointment, your cat will not become apprehensive when he sees the carrier. To make your cat’s carrier familiar, start now. Put a soft blanket inside, put it in an area of the house your cats tends to hang out in, leave the door open and just let it be.  Many cats prefer that the carrier be kept in a location off the floor, such as on a table or couch. With time, your cat will begin to venture into the carrier and may start sleeping there. Don’t try to pressure your cat to go in, just let it be.  You can toss a couple of yummy treats inside to encourage interest in going in, but let them take their time. You can even feed your cat in the carrier as they start to become familiar and comfortable with it.

On the day of your veterinary appointment, plan ahead. Cats do not like change, so do not move the carrier and move slowly when working with your cat. If your cat goes outdoors, be sure they are in the house several hours before the appointment. At the appropriate time, calmly pick up your cat and put him or her head first into the carrier (if your cat’s not already asleep inside) and quietly close it. If your cat has learned to like the carrier, this should be easy. Place a lightweight towel or other covering over the carrier to help your cat feel hidden and safe. If time allows let him sit closed in the carrier for a few minutes before leaving the house instead of immediately moving the carrier. Be careful to hold the carrier securely to prevent tilting or motion as you take it to the car. Be sure to strap the carrier into the car with a seat belt.

Once you arrive in our feline waiting room, your cat will be calmed by our use of Feliway. We use Feliway in all of the cat areas of Animal Hospital of North Asheville.  Feliway is a synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone, used by cats to mark their territory as safe and secure. By mimicking the cat’s natural facial pheromones, it creates a state of familiarity and security in the cat's local environment. As a result, Feliway can be used to help comfort and reassure cats while they cope with a challenging situation and help prevent or reduce the stress caused by a change in their environment. Pheromones are species specific, so you will not be aware that Feliway is present, but your cat will know and will feel comforted.

One thing we do that is very popular with our feline patents is that we allow them to stay as hidden as possible during exams or hospitalizations. Arriving with your cat in their familiarized carrier with a towel placed over the top allows them to feel safe while adjusting to the new sounds and smell of the hospital, so it is important to not to open the carrier while waiting to go into the exam room. Once in the exam room, the exam room assistant will open the carrier door and allow your cat to explore at their own pace. It is important for your cat to have the opportunity to sit in the carrier and get used to the room. Many cats prefer to stay curled up in their carrier during the visit. This helps them feel safe and secure. We never drag a cat out of the carrier as that is very upsetting. Instead, we will carefully take off the top of the carrier and when possible we allow your cat to stay safe and secure in the bottom of the carrier during the exam. Purchasing a carrier that allows for the top to be removed is a wise investment for your cat’s wellbeing.  During their time in the exam room outside of the carrier, we have soft, clean bedding for your cat to rest on. We prefer to use your towel with the familiar scents of home whenever possible to allow your cat to hide under. We offer a variety of ways to help our hospitalized cat patients feel safe and hidden.

Besides creating an environment that helps decrease stress and promotes your cat feeling of security, we have a great variety of treats that we offer. This allows for positive association with the visit. One of the most popular treats is fresh canned tuna. We did a taste trial of cat treats and we offer the top treats that were chosen by patients in the trial, so along with fresh canned tuna, our list includes crunchy dental treats, cheese, pill pockets and catnip. True to their instincts, many cats will not consider eating anything in an unfamiliar environment, so treats may not be beneficial. If your cat has a food treat that you know they like, please feel free to bring it.  Let your exam room assistant know that you have brought treats so they can be used during the exam. Play and fun interactions are also a great way to reduce stress and change the visit from being stressful to being a positive event which cats look forward to again in the future, so we have cat toys in our feline exam rooms. Please feel free to engage your cat in play at appropriate times.

We are proud to be a Gold Standard Cat Friendly Practice, one of only a handful in the state. The American Association of Feline Practitioners has created the Cat Friendly Practice Program to allow veterinary practices to systematically and effectively address the needs of the feline patient in order to provide the highest quality care. The program was first introduced in February 2012, and participating practices that have become cat friendly have noticed a considerable improvement in their ability to keep cat patients more relaxed. The program provides creative solutions to help decrease the stress that many cats feel during veterinary visits. There is a need to make these adaptations in order to provide a higher quality of care to cats and create a practice environment that values the feline patient’s needs. At the heart of the Cat Friendly Practice is the potential for improved care of the feline patient, and all of us at Animal Hospital of North Asheville feel fortunate to learn from and work with this organization.