Is Your Cat Scared of the Vet? Read This First.

The process of getting your cat into a carrier or to cooperate for a visit to the veterinarian just got easier.

By: someToast
Leave your cat carrier open at home. Let them get used to it. By: someToast

I love cats. Cats rock. Cats rule. Cats rock and rule. But they cannot be ruled by us.

A cat is not a small dog. A cat is not man’s best friend. Above all, a cat is in charge of itself. If you feel a special bond with your cat, it’s only because the cat allowed you in.

Cats are fearful of new people and new environments. This is built into their survival instincts. A visit to the veterinarian can bring terror to the independent feline who does not venture out of his secure home very often.

In order to get the most out of a cat’s visit to the vet, we have to try and lessen his fear or, at best, not make his instinctual fear of strange places and strange hands worse.

Veterinarians and their staff should be working constantly to better serve felines and turn the vet’s office into a cat-friendly practice. More on this at a later date. Before we even worry about how the vet part of the adventure will go, let’s work on getting kitty to the vet with as little anxiety as possible.

What Not to Do

All too often, Mr. Peabody’s annual exam begins something like this: Mr. P was spending his midday napping on his favorite window ledge when he was rudely scooped up and stuffed into a smelly cat box dug out of the garage, complete with a few spiders and mice turds (Mr. P might think mice turds are okay).

Then Mr P. gets swung like a sack in this cold black box, out of his safe house, into a noisy contraption that makes bad sounds, has equally bad music playing, and moves fast over bumps and makes him sick to his stomach. This big motion sickness monster then comes to a stop.

Mr. P is swung back and forth again in his black hole of a box and enters a foreign country. In the foreign land, he encounters unknown smells, strange terrain and sees large creatures that speak woof from the planet Caninaria. Mr. P is utterly unnerved.

Don’t Miss: Is Your Dog Scared of the Vet? Start Here.

Inside the black hole, the cat is then thrown onto a cold table, and the black hole door is opened. This must be the interrogation room. Mr. P is now supposed to come out of the hole in his box. Mr. P is now thinking you all must be on kitty crack.

In the interrogation room, he sees Mom, who is a bit frazzled. His familiar kids are hanging from the vet’s mini blinds or playing “puncture my brother’s ear drum” with the otoscope. Mom’s cell phone begins to ring, and the kids direct their attention to Mr. P as they try to drag him out of his box by some newly enhanced interrogation technique.

This scenario is not making Peabody optimally relaxed for his upcoming physical. A “cat-friendly” trip to the vet should start a bit differently.

The Cat Carrier

Acclimate the kitty to the carrier at home. Most cats love to crawl in bags, under beds and in boxes. You would think they would love a cat carrier, but not if you try to stuff them in an unfamiliar plastic container 2 seconds before leaving the house.

Leave the carrier open at home in a desirable place until your cat enters it readily. Add catnip, some cat treats or whatever it takes to entice the kitty to enter the carrier and hang out in it; that is your goal.

Special hints:

  • Cats like perches. The floor may not be the best place to leave the carrier. Does your cat often nap in a quiet area away from family antics? Try leaving the carrier in a safe place.
  • Line the carrier with a favorite snuggle blanket or that laundry he curled up on last week. Cats like warm, soft places.
  • Give treats as immediate rewards once he enters the carrier. If he loves fishing line toys, this is a good exercise to play in and around the carrier openings.
  • Fearful cats may benefit from Feliway Behavior Modifier Spray (affiliate link) used about 30 minutes before you put the carrier down in the desired place.
  • Acclimating the kitty to the box can take several weeks for some cats. Be patient.
  • If your cat is still terrified of the carrier after many attempts, try a completely different carrier.

This video shows Dr. Michael Karg, DVM, demonstrating a technique to easily get a cat into a carrier:

Easy In/Easy Out

There are cat carriers, and then there are black holes. Many people own the black hole cat carrier. Hard boxes with thousands of fasteners and a front port of entry are not feline-friendly. It figures this is the typical carrier sold at most discount and big box stores or the kind you can borrow from your neighbor.

Carriers made of softer material with zippers rather than a million screws and clunky loud hardware and with multiple places for entry and exit are more desirable in my mind.

Whichever carrier works, there should be easy access from the top. Once at the vet, for example, as you easily remove or open the top of the carrier, the fearful kitty deserves the right to stay in the bottom portion of the carrier if necessary.

This cat is happy in the carrier. By: Muffet
This cat is happy in the carrier. By: Muffet

Here, Kitty Kitty

Getting a cat into a box when she is not on board with the plan is no small task.

The absurd conundrum of the cat box is hilarious. At home, you can’t get the cat into the box. You become distressed. You are out of breath. You may look like the victim of a home invasion when all is said and done.

Then, when you finally arrive at the vet, your cat won’t come out of the box.

At least this time, you sigh, the veterinary staff can deal with extracting the cat from the box. Once the exam is over, you sit back and think, Ah hah! Now let’s watch the professionals wrangle kitty back into the box.

But no. Kitty walks right in. No blood, sweat or tears. Kitty looks snug as a bug in a box. Clearly, kitty prefers the box to the exam table. You can go home now.

The Car Ride

How many of you take your cat for joy rides? The answer is not too many. Dogs with ears flapping in the breeze are a common sight. Cats peering out of car windows? Not so much.

Most cats in cars feel like those Garfields suctioned-cupped to the windows, a popular car adornment  in the 1980s. I hated those things. I thought it demeaned the glory of Garfield.

Tigger deserves to be acclimated to the car gradually. On his appointment day, it would be great if there were no extraneous stops for coffee, picking up kids from school or carpooling. Tigger deserves a designated driver and an upgrade to first class.

Here are some quick tips for a less fearful car ride:

  • Just as you conditioned your cat to the carrier, do the same with the car. Once your cat is happy going in and out of his carrier, place a blanket around the carrier and carefully place the carrier in the back seat of the car. Shut the car door. Don’t go anywhere. Wait 2 minutes. Open the car door, and bring Tigger back inside. Do this for several days in a row and work up to driving Tigger down the driveway and around the block.
  • Once it’s go time, a quiet drive directly to the vet without stops is ideal.
  • Soothing music or quiet words of reassurance may help during the drive.
  • Strap the carrier in a seat belt or have someone hold the carrier so it is stable.
  • Medications from your veterinarian for car sickness or anxiety are helpful for cats who need them.

Even cats who seem more carefree and easy-going sense stress and fear more than we realize. All cats deserve some special attention when they are being asked to do something unfamiliar. Cats rule. We are simply their humble servants.

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.

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