Most cat owners are familiar with ‘The Struggle’. That is, the almighty wrestling match that precedes getting a cat into a carrier to get them safely to the vet. And then there’s the examination once you’re there, where your normally docile kitty turns into a little spitfire or a terrified plank! I’ve come up with some ways for you to help make the whole process a lot easier for both of you, and maybe even a little fun!
From start to finish, vet visits are usually an unpleasant experience for cats. First, they’re shoved into an unfamiliar, hard plastic cage and put in a noisy, bumpy car whose movement can make them feel sick. Then they’re taken, scared, to a room with other stressed animals who may be eyeballing them or slathering in their direction. Finally they’re poked and prodded on a cold, hard table by someone they don’t know. Everything smells strange and they can’t follow their natural instinct to escape. And all of this usually takes place when they’re already feeling pretty lousy. It’s no wonder they’re not huge fans!
Take each step at a time to minimize the causes of stress for your cat, starting with that frightening carrier! This is an all-important piece of equipment, as it’s the safest way to transport your cat to and from the vet. It can have negative associations for your kitty though, if a vet visit is the only time the carrier makes an appearance. Having it become part of the furniture of the house will mean it becomes familiar instead of a red flag. Keep it in a prominent place in the house near where you and the cat hang out. You could play with your cat around the carrier, turn it into their dining room or cat bed, or just use it as the place you give treats. This will all help your cat to associate the carrier with good things so they’ll get in it quite happily when it’s time for the vet.
Unlike dogs, cats don’t often go in the car for any reason other than heading to the vet. You can change this and the general scariness of the car by giving them practice. Do all this only once they’ve gotten used to the carrier from the step above. Put a worn piece of your clothing, or a familiar towel in the carrier before the journey, and once they’re inside, cover it with another. Secure the carrier on the floor behind one of the front seats, or on the seat with a seatbelt. Keep talking to your cat the whole time in a calm voice. You can warm them up with a few false starts where the car is turned on but not driven, then you both go back inside for treats and chill-out time. Then work your way up to short trips up and down the driveway, or around the block before heading home again. This way, the car isn’t automatically a stressful place to be, and while not many cats will love these journeys, they can learn to tolerate them much better.
Next, make sure your vet’s office is cat-friendly. There are some clinics with separate dog-free waiting rooms and areas with less noise. Ask when their quietest periods are, and make your appointment during that time. In any case, keep the carrier opening pointed at a wall or back of a chair while waiting, so no eye contact can be made with other animals. If possible, take your cat straight from the car to the exam room. You can go in and let them know you’ve arrived, then wait in the car until it’s your time. And throughout all of this, be calm and talk in a soft voice. Making sure you’ve got all relevant medical information and plenty of time will make it all less stressful for you too!
Take a minute to talk to the vet when you get into the room so your cat can acclimatize slightly before the exam. And keep your hands close to the carrier so kitty can smell you easily. When it’s time for the physical exam, having a top-opening carrier with a detachable top will mean the cat can be more easily brought in and out. Ask your vet if you can put down a familiar smelling towel or blanket first, to make the table a bit warmer and softer. If appropriate, see if they could be partially examined while still inside the familiar bottom section of the carrier, once the top is removed. Also, the cat handling techniques of the vet and assistants should be only as firm as your cat is giving them cause to be. Some cats do require firm restraint, while some are better with a lighter touch.
These measures are all simple and require no fancy equipment or training. Just your understanding and patience are required. Taking care of your cat’s physical health is important, as we all know. And helping vet visits be happier, more relaxed events will go a long way to ensuring your cat’s mental health is also given the importance it deserves.