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Fear at the Vet’s Office – Using Low Stress Handling for Cats

How long has it been since you’ve taken your cat to the vet? Does your cat hate going to the vet? Does taking your cat the vet stress you and your cat out?

You are not alone. According to the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study, “40% of cats have not been to the veterinarian within the past year-in large part because the cats themselves resist so vehemently being put in a carrier and transported to the practice, where they encounter unfamiliar animals at the clinic. It’s stressful to the cats, and often more so to the cat owner.” (1) 58% of cat owners report their cat “hates going to the vet.” (1) This means that cats are often not getting the preventative veterinary care they need. Therefore when they do go to their vet, they are sick and this means the stress and the bills are usually higher.

The veterinary profession is recognizing the fear that our pets do feel at the vet and the subsequent stress felt by their owners, and is in the process of developing principles and standards for low-stress handling for all pets during their vet visits. The American Veterinary Medical Association’s Physical Restraint of Animals Policy states: “The method [of restraint] used should provide the least restraint required to allow the specific procedure(s) to be performed properly, should minimize fear, pain, stress and suffering for the animal, and should protect both the animal and personnel from harm. Every effort should be made to ensure adequate and ongoing training in animal handling and behavior by all parties involved, so that distress and physical restraint are minimized. In some situations, [sedation] may be the preferred method.

Whenever possible, restraint should be planned, formulated, and communicated prior to its application.”

Specifically for cats, the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has recognized the sometimes overwhelming stress for you and your cat during visits to the vet, and in response has developed the Cat Friendly Practice (CFP) Program. From the AAFP: “When designated as “cat friendly,” veterinary practices have proven they have taken specific extra steps to assure they understand a cat’s unique needs and have implemented feline friendly standards.”

There are things you and your veterinarian can do. Here are some suggestions to help you reduce you and your cat’s stress with vet visits.

To make all of the above steps work even better for your furry friend, start all of them when she is a kitten. More and more veterinarians are offering “kitten kindergarten” and “happy visits” to help your kitten be happier during her visits to the vet. Happy visits are short visits that are comprised of treats, fun interactions with the staff and nothing that is scary or painful. They build up your pet’s confidence that the veterinary hospital is a fun, safe place to visit. Kitten kindergarten is also used to help her confidence with travel, new situations and the vet, and also to help you manage normal (and often rambunctious) kitten behavior.

While we may not be able to make every cat fear free at the vet, there are many things you and your vet can do to help your feline family member be less fearful.


(1).Volk JO, Felsted KE, Thomas JG, et al. Executive summary of the Bayer veterinary care usage study. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2011;238:1275–1282.