How to Have a Trauma-Free Veterinary Visit for Your Cat

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Does your cat dart out of reach as soon as she sees the cat carrier? If so, join the club; this is a common reaction for many feline companions when they know a veterinary visit is coming. A trip to the doctor’s office for your cat can be a stressful and anxious event. The stressful components to the vet visit for a cat includes the following:

  • Getting in the carrier
  • The car ride to the clinic
  • Spending time in the waiting room
  • The actual exam and treatment
  • The car ride home

Here are a few tips to making that dreaded visit safer and more pleasant for you, your cat, and the veterinary staff.

Prepare Yourself and Your Cat

As you go to the process of taking your cat to the vet clinic, stay calm. Your cat also reacts to your stress, so don’t speak loudly or yell at your cat no matter what your cat does. Speak peacefully and softly or remain quiet.

Gather all of your cat’s health history and records from other clinics and bring these documents to your appointment. Don’t forget to write down any questions you may have to ensure they are answered during your time with the vet.

If your cat is going to require blood-work, withhold food the morning of your appointment or as directed by your veterinarian. If your vet requires a urine sample, you may want to restrict your cat’s access to the litter box for a few hours before your appointment.

Before You Leave for the Vet Clinic

Getting your cat in the carrier can be a real challenge. 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). That means that when Kitty sees the “pet taxi” come out, it usually means bad news. Many a veterinary visit is cancelled for no reason other than the owner simply can’t find or can’t reach their cat. In homes with 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…and sometimes that means you need two visits, not just one.

One of the ways you can reduce your pet’s anxiety is to make the travel kennel an everyday object. A pet taxi or carrier’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; placing it near a sunny window or other desirable spot in the house can make it more appealing. You can also try throwing a cat treat, some catnip, or a toy in it occasionally so your kitty moves in and out freely and develops confidence in the presence of the carrier.

In addition, you can try making the carrier a less stressful place using pheromones such as Feliway that can help calm anxious cats. Place a clean towel in the carrier and spray the pheromone on it, then allow your cat to explore the carrier for half an hour or so before attempting to put them in it.

On the day of the vet visit, get prepared by gathering your supplies beforehand. Make sure to have your keys, phone, wallet or purse, carrier, Feliway spray (if necessary), your cat’s medical records, your list of questions, and a light sheet or towel ready to go. Practice where your carrier will go and how to secure it with a seat belt.

Once you are totally ready to go, minimize the time your cat is way from home and in the carrier by gently placing them inside the carrier as calmly (and quickly) as possible. Make sure the carrier is level and won’t easily tilt, which can be uncomfortable and cause additional stress. You can also use the seat belt to secure the carrier so it won’t fall if you make a sudden stop. Lightly cover the carrier with a sheet so to allow your cat to “hide” during the drive; excess visual stimulation can stress your cat even further.

On the Way to the Vet Clinic: In the Car with Kitty

It may help to desensitize your cat to the car as well. If you have a younger cat, 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 them; do not run errands and leave Kitty unattended in the car. Speak softly and reassuringly, and don’t let the temperature get too hold or too cold; keep the windows rolled up and the radio off to minimize stress and opportunities for escape. When you return home, open the door to the carrier and let your cat stroll out on her own to a small treat.

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 car’s accelerator while you are driving. It is safest for all involved for your cat to stay in their carrier, no matter how cutely they cry to be let out. If you are taking more than one pet in the car, each cat should be taken in their own carrier. Fights and squabbles can break out even among loving companions, and injury can occur in a matter of seconds.

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; a stressed out cat is hard on them, too.

When you have your actual visit, go immediately to the hospital for your appointment and right home afterward. If your cat is extremely stressed, call the clinic from your phone and tell them when you have arrived in the parking lot. One option is to wait quietly in the car with your cat (make sure the car isn’t too hot or cold and air isn’t blowing directly on them). Ask the receptionist to call you when they are ready for you to minimize your wait in the exam room and be ready to go in right away.

At the Veterinary Clinic

Keep your cat in the carrier until your veterinarian or the staff is ready for you. When taking your cat to the doctor, a “pet taxi” or carrier is a must. When you arrive at the clinic, check in with the receptionist. After that, choose a spot that is quiet and away from other pets and keep the carrier covered with a light sheet or towel.

Speak quietly and calmly to your cat during the examination and evaluation. Some cats prefer you be with them during the exam; however, some tend to be more stressed with their owners close by. If that is the case, sometimes it works to everyone’s benefit if the veterinary staff does 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.

When You Get Your Cat Back Home

When returning home, provide your cat with some privacy and solitude. Many cats hiss and fight with companions on their return from a vet visit. This is called non-recognition aggression and it is very common. For more information, read this article.

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. If you used a pheromone such as Feliway prior to the trip, it can also help calm cats after returning home.

Can’t You Give My Cat Something?

Most cats do well during a normal veterinary visit. However, every veterinarian has cats that, despite all efforts, are so frightened and anxious that even a simple physical exam is impossible. Everyone takes these cats very seriously. A frightened cat can become defensive and injure the owner, doctor, or other staff.

A cat’s behavior may limit their necessary medical care. If your pet’s health allows it, your veterinarian may discuss with you the advantages of providing mild sedation for your cat as an alternative solution. This 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 cats needing medical attention. Some cats can also be sedated at the hospital to allow testing if necessary. Please discuss this option with your doctor if you feel it might be necessary.

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