Cats: How to Reduce the Stress of a Veterinary Visit
For most cats the fear of a veterinary visit begins at home when they are shoved into an unfamiliar carrier and taken on a scary car ride. Stress levels can soar and make them dangerous to themselves, to you and to the vet and staff. Examining your kitty, getting accurate readings and treating her can become difficult if not impossible. Our goal is to help take the stress and fear out of visits to our clinic not only for your beloved cat, but for you, too.
You are key to making this a reality and it starts before you ever step foot in the clinic. Helping your kitty come to love his or her crate and then getting her familiar with car rides and being handled are three of the easiest things to do and what a difference they will make for both of you!
We want your cat’s view of the crate/carrier to do a complete about face, from torture device to a comfy, familiar hangout. The more comfortable cats are relaxing in the carrier at home, the more likely they are to go in when it’s time for the vet visit. Here are a few suggestions:
- Select a carrier that has two doors, one on top and one in the front. Keep the carrier out in your house at all times. Cats don’t like surprises, familiarity is key.
- Make it a homey place. Place a pheromone-infused towel (Feliway is good) or bed or other item that your cat has rested on into the crate. When using a pheromone spray, allow the pheromone to dry for 10 to 15 minutes. Or use an item of clothing – one you are not attached to – that is permeated with your scent.
- Make it a happy place: put her favorite toys in the carrier. A catnip toy or food puzzle filled with a favorite treat might be just the thing. Play with her near the crate, throw in treats and feed her in or near it. Let him or her enter on his/her own. Never force it.
- Overtime, as she comes to enjoy hanging out in her crate you can close the door for a few minutes at a time. Repetition will make her more comfortable and keep her from feeling trapped.
This process will take time, but will make life so much easier for both of you. And in the event of an emergency, getting him or her in the crate quickly and safely could save your furry friend’s life.
Once your kitty is comfortable in her crate you can teach her to feel safe in the car.
- Prepare your car. A few sprays of a calming pheromone should be applied where the crate will be. Apply 10 to 15 minutes before you bring her in her carrier to the car. Cool or warm the car as needed and bring it to a comfortable temperature. Play calming music at a low level.
- Cats should be resting comfortably in the crate before placing in the car. When carrying the crate try to minimize movement by supporting the crate from the bottom with one side resting against your chest. This will help her feel more secure and prevent eye contact with other animals that may be about. Once in the car make sure the carrier is properly secured. The floorboard behind the passenger seat is one of the most secure places for a small crate. If the carrier is on one of the seats, make sure it is secured with a seatbelt. Some cats will travel better with a pheromone-infused towel over the crate. Be sure to leave one side open for ventilation.
- And now for the first ride: a non-ride. Once all is secure and you are in the driver’s seat just sit for a few minutes. You may want to do this a few times, just so she gets the idea that there is nothing to fear. Once she is feeling more confident start the car, again, no need to drive anywhere. After a few times, take her around the block. Accelerate slowly, and be matter-of-fact during this whole process. If you are calm, happy and relaxed, your kitty will be, too. Gradually increase the length of your trips.
Again, this process will take time, but once your sweet friend is acclimated to travel confinement, a trip to the vet – or anywhere else - will be much easier on both of you.
Preparing for the Vet Visit
- One of the best things you can do is handle your kitty in ways she may experience at the clinic. Do it at a slow pace that allows her to stay relaxed and pair the experience with treats, petting or play. It is best to start when your cat is young, but they can learn at any stage of life. VetStreet has an excellent article on how to acclimate your cat to being handled. Click here.
- Allow extra time and avoid feeling rushed. Cats are very sensitive and if you are stressed, she may become stressed, too. So keep it calm and she will likely be calm, too.
- Carry the crate into the clinic as recommended in number two under Car Rides. Again, you want her to feel secure and avoid eye contact with other animals. Once in the clinic it is ideal if your cat has 5 to 10 minutes to adjust to the new surroundings and feel safe. While in the lobby it is best to place the carrier on an elevated surface. Covering the front and two sides with a pheromone infused towel should help her remain calm.
All of these steps will take time, a little planning and effort, but the payoff will be huge for you and your cat and make travel and vet visits easier and safer.