It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to quickly figure out that going to the veterinary clinic is not high on a cat’s list of favorite places to visit. If you look at it from your cat’s perspective, it certainly makes sense. Without any warning, the cat is shoved into a carrier, put in a car and whisked off to a place that smells, looks and sounds scary. Then, once in the exam room, the cat is pulled from the carrier, placed on a cold exam table and then poked and prodded. It makes perfect sense to her to fight with all her might to make sure she never has to go back there.
Since it certainly isn’t a good idea to avoid taking your cat to the veterinarian, you need to have a plan. If your current plan consists of chasing the cat through the house, cornering her and then battling to shove her in the carrier without ending up as if you were the victim of a furry slasher, then it’s time to come up with Plan B because Plan A is stressful, dangerous and totally counter-productive. Take a deep breath and relax because there is a better way to have less stressful veterinary visits.
Here is my list of DOs and DON’Ts:
Do look for a veterinary clinic that is feline-friendly. Look for clinics that have separate waiting areas for cats and have a separate feline-only exam room. There are even cat-exclusive veterinary clients.
Don’t choose a particular veterinary clinic based on convenience. Tour the clinic and meet the veterinarian(s) beforehand to make you’re comfortable that this is the right place for your cat.
Do pay attention to how the veterinarian treats your cat. Does the veterinarian take time to greet the cat and try to get her comfortable? Is restraint used immediately without first seeing if a “less is more” technique will be more effective and less stressful to your cat? Does the veterinarian communicate clearly to you?
Don’t just take the carrier out when it’s time to go to the veterinary clinic. This is sure to cause panic in your cat as she learns to associate its appearance with something unpleasant. Leave the carrier out all the time so it becomes a neutral object in the environment.
Do train your cat to become comfortable with being in the carrier. Offer treats and feed your cat near the carrier and then eventually inside the carrier so she associates it with positive experiences. Work up to being able to close the door, pick up the carrier and walk around the room.
Don’t try to grab your cat at the last minute before leaving the house for the veterinary appointment. This is how the experience ends up being very stressful with the cat ending up getting dragged out from under the bed and forced into the carrier. Plan ahead so you can do this in a relaxed way and so you don’t have to keep a large supply of Band-Aids in the medicine cabinet.
Do take the time to desensitize your cat to car travel. Put the cat in the carrier and then place the carrier in the car for a few minutes. In subsequent sessions work up to starting the engine and then take short drives around the block. To help a cat relax during car travel, the trip shouldn’t always end at the veterinary clinic.
Don’t forego your cat’s medical care just because of how she may react at the clinic. Routine veterinarian exams are crucial to your cat’s health.
Do periodic visits to the clinic just to get your cat comfortable with being in the environment. Quick visits, where the cat gets greeted or petted by a staff member may help reduce fear during future visits. This is especially beneficial if you’re training a kitten.
Don’t schedule your appointment for the busiest time. Unless it’s urgent, don’t make a Saturday appointment.
Do bring a towel to cover the carrier so your cat won’t feel so exposed.
Don’t allow other people or dogs to come up to the carrier. Politely inform approaching children that your cat is nervous and needs her space.
Do bring treats, an interesting toy or even some catnip to the appointment to help calm and distract your cat.
Don’t pull or shake the cat out of the carrier. Open the door and give the cat the option to explore and venture out without being yanked out.
Do give the cat the option of remaining in the carrier for as much of the exam as possible. If you use a kennel-type carrier, you can remove the top and allow the cat to remain in the bottom half.
Don’t yell at the cat or scold her for hissing, growling or even scratching. If your cat is reacting negatively it’s because she’s very frightened. Punishing her will only heighten her fear.
Do as much advance preparation as possible and write down any questions or concerns you have about your cat’s health problem or behavior. You may even want to take some video on your smart phone to show the veterinarian if that’s the most efficient way to demonstrate a particular behavior or issue.
Don’t expect your cat to be immediately sociable upon your return home. She may need time to groom herself and get comfortable in her environment again. Clean the carrier to remove the smell of the veterinary clinic and toss any towels in the laundry.
Do give your cat time by herself before reintroducing her if you have a multicat home. Scent is a major form of communication between cats and it’s normal for the cats who remained at home to feel threatened by the vet clinic scents on their feline companion.
Want More Information?
Your cat needs good veterinary care throughout her life. Its important for cats to have yearly exams and for geriatric cats to have twice-yearly exams. In addition to the routine wellness exams, it’s also crucial to have your cat receive veterinary care at the first sign of a potential medical problem. You may not ever be able to completely reduce the stress a cat may feel during the veterinary visit or even during the trip to the clinic (does anyone love going to the doctor?), but you can reduce some of that fear. If you have a kitten, now is the perfect time to start training in order to have an adult cat who is easier to transport to the clinic and easier to handle once there.
Here are some articles with more information:
Here’s a video from the American Association of Feline Practitioners to help educate the veterinary staff on being flexible during cat exams. The information is very beneficial to cat parents as well.
Please note that Pam is unable to answer questions posted in the comment section. If you have a question about your cat’s behavior, you can find information in the articles on our website as well as in Pam’s books. If you have a question regarding your cat’s health, please contact your veterinarian. This article is not intended to take the place of your cat’s regular veterinary care, nor is it intended to diagnose any medical condition.