Bringing Your Cat to the Vet
Reducing the Stress of Veterinary Visits
You know that you cat needs to come to the vet for preventive care like vaccinations, annual physicals, and spaying as well as when he gets sick. But do you put it off because your cat doesn?t like to travel? Or because you get so stressed out trying to get him into his carrier or listening to him cry in the car? If so, you are not alone but we hope these tips will help make it easier. Unfortunately, if your cat has already had a bad experience, it will take longer to ?re-set? his tolerance level but with time and patience, you can fix it.
Step One: Proper Carrier Selection. Yes, your cat should travel in a carrier. It?s safer for you to drive and you don?t risk kitty darting out the car door when you get out, which unfortunately we have seen happen with the cat never to be seen again. The best carriers are hard sided with a front AND top door so that he can be allowed to walk out the front OR lifted out of the top. You also want to be able to remove the top half of the carrier so quick pop latches or slides are preferred to screws and bolts.
Step Two: Acclimate to the Carrier. Keep the carrier, with the door open and a soft towel inside, in a place where your cat can visit it often. The living room is often the best place. Place some favorite treats in the carrier and give more when he ventures inside. Feed him next to the carrier and once he relaxes close to it, move the dish just inside the door, and eventually move the dish to the back of the carrier. After he has had lots of time to get used to going in and out, gently shut the door. Toss some treats into the carrier, but let him out again, allowing him to come and go as he pleases. By the way, once he is used to the carrier, if you don?t want to keep it in your living room all the time, move it to a bedroom where the kitty spends plenty of time but be sure to continue giving treats and food in it frequently. And if you get out of this habit or put it away where he can?t access it to relax in it on his own, always bring the carrier out several days before your vet visit and repeat the acclimation process. And don?t forget to always use a towel that the kitty likes and has scented, not a freshly laundered one and heaven forbid, a slippery plastic bottom without a pad! You can also place catnip and favorite toys in the carrier, especially when you get to the next step.
Step Three: Acclimate to the Car. Once he is used to being in the carrier, gently entice him into the carrier with treats and cover it with a towel, preferably one scented with Feliway, a synthetic pheromone that lessens anxiety in cats (www.feliway.us). This can be sprayed on the towel or use a wipe inside. Carry him out the car but do not carry it by the handle. The swaying action from a handle is frightening. Instead, carry it from underneath or by the rim. Always hook a seat belt through the handle or around the carrier for safety and to minimize sliding. Stop at this point and return to the house. Once he is used to this, start the car and feed him treats while he is acclimating. Did we mention to find something particularly yummy like tuna or chicken pieces? And skip the meal beforehand so he is hungry. Finally after several repetitions of this when he is relaxed, gently and slowly, with no jackrabbit starts and stops, move the car back and forth on the driveway. Ideally, offer treats during this time, and finally take a short drive around the block (preferably with a passenger in the car that can give treats). If he is anxious and crying, you have pushed him too fast? take a step back to a point where he is relaxed.
Step Four: Going into the Vet?s Office. When you actually go to the clinic, (remember, have a Feliway sprayed towel covering the carrier and carry it securely, not by the handle), either keep the cat elevated while you go directly into the exam room OR set the carrier on an end table with the kitty facing AWAY from the rest of the room. This will keep obnoxious dogs from shoving their face into the door, scaring your feline friend. When you do get into the exam room, have the attendant shut the room doors, then open the door of the carrier. Let your cat come out of the carrier on his own accord. Do not force him out, and no pulling or dumping out! If he hasn?t come out on his own by the time the technician comes in and needs him out, open the top door or better yet, take off the entire top half. Usually your veterinarian can do most, if not all, of the exam within the bottom of the carrier, which by now is a safe, relaxing place for your kitty. They might even wrap him in a Feliway scented towel during the exam.
If your cat has to go to the vet right away, so you don?t have time to acclimate him, especially if he is already frightened of the carrier because of prior bad experiences, place the carrier in a small room with no hiding places. Open the top door (or if none, take the top off the carrier). Preferably do this at least an hour or two ahead of time. After kitty has had time to forget you had the torture device in hand earlier, slowly and calmly bundle him in a Feliway sprayed towel and carry him into the room, shut the room door with your foot in case he escapes, and set the towel/cat combo gently into the carrier, sliding the top back on as you withdraw your hand from the towel. Again, move the carrier without swaying, secure it in the car, cover with another towel, and drive smoothly!