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How to Have a Trauma-free Veterinary Visit

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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Does your cat dart out of reach as soon as she sees the cat carrier? This is a common reaction of many pets when they know a veterinary visit is coming. A trip to the doctor's office for your pet can be a stressful and anxious event. Here are a few tips to making that dreaded visit safer and more pleasant for you, your pet and the veterinary staff.

Getting the Cat in The Carrier

Chances are you do not take your cat on short trips, outings to the park or social visits. Trips in the car for cats are far less common than for dogs. In fact, probably the only place you take your cat is to the vet or perhaps a kennel. So when Kitty sees that pet taxi come out, it usually means Bad News. Many a veterinary visit is cancelled for reasons none other than the owner simply can't find or can't reach her cat. In homes occupied by more than one cat, a trip to the doctor can trigger a whole chain of stressful events. Cats that have previously gotten along with each other may hiss or even fight when the patient returns home.

One of the ways you can reduce your pet's anxiety is to make the travel kennel an everyday object. A pet taxi's use does not have to be limited to travel alone. Use it from day one as a retreat, a perch or a feeding station for your cat before you ever attempt to use it as a carrier. Let your cat become comfortable seeing the carrier; perhaps you can use it for lying in a sunny window.

Throw a cat treat, some catnip or cat toy in it occasionally so your kitty moves in and out freely and develops confidence in the present of the carrier. For younger cats, try taking your kitten in the carrier on short trips in the car. The purpose of the trip should be a short ride ONLY to desensitize your cat. Do not run errands and leave kitty unattended in the car. Speak softly and reassuringly. Keep windows rolled up and the radio off. When you return home, open the door to the carrier and let your cat stroll out on her own to a small food treat.

Once your cat feels confident in the car, ask the staff at the veterinary hospital if you can stop by for a non-medical visit like a weight check. Let your kitten interact with the veterinary staff for a few minutes and then proceed home. Your veterinary staff will be happy to take a minute or two for these important interactions as a stressed out cat is hard on them, too.

When taking your cat to the doctor, a pet taxi is a must. Do not let your cat roam freely in the car; this is dangerous for you and your pet. A cat can dart out when you open the door, hide out of reach in the seat or wedge herself under the cars accelerator while you are driving. If you are taking more than one pet in for care, each cat should be taken in her own carrier. Fights and squabbles can break out even among loving companions and injury can occur.

When returning home, provide your cat with some privacy and solitude. Many cats hiss and fight with companions on their return. Take your cat to a quiet area of your home with food, water and a litter box for a little relaxation time, and let things calm down before returning to your daily routine.

Some cats tend to be more stressed with their owners close by. It sometimes works to everyone's benefit to do a physical exam or procedure in a separate room with only veterinary staff in attendance. As much as you want to be with your pet every minute, this is often a simple solution that decreases anxiety.

Can't You Give Him Something?

Every veterinarian has patients that, despite all efforts, are so frightened and anxious, even a simple physical exam is impossible. Everyone takes these pets very seriously. A frightened pet can become defensive and injure the owner, doctor, staff or even another patient in the clinic. A pet's behavior may limit needed medical care. If it is a safe alternative based on your pet's health, your veterinarian may discuss with you the advantages of providing mild sedation for your cat. It may be a pill you give before you leave for the clinic or medication administered by the doctor. Sedation can be a lifesaver for those pets needing medical attention. Please discuss this option with your doctor.

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