Every cat owner has been in this situation… your cat gets sick or needs a wellness exam, but you hesitate to make a veterinary appointment because of the stress to you and your cat. Your cat runs as soon as the carrier comes out of the closet, she wails and drools in the car ride and then she growls and hisses at the veterinarian. Not a pleasant experience!
Recently, the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) published guidelines to help ease feline stress during veterinary visits. Contained within these guidelines, there are a number of tips offered to pet owners that can help make the veterinary visit more palatable to your cat.
First, rehearse visits to the veterinarian. These rehearsals help to desensitize your cat to the carrier and car trip. You can start gradually by introducing your cat to the carrier, using positive reinforcement to promote desirable behaviors. An example of this technique is to put treats in the carrier so your cat associates being in the carrier with something good. Move on to short car trips, then to longer car trips. You can even bring your cat into the veterinary clinic without taking her out of the carrier and then, when she seems comfortable, take her out of the carrier without being seen by the veterinarian. The more you practice the experience, the easier it will become. Just call your veterinary clinic ahead of time so they will be prepared.
When making the trip to the clinic, it is helpful to bring a blanket or towel that your cat is familiar with. Start exposing her to the fabric several weeks before the appointment by putting it on her favorite sleeping spot in the house. Place the towel or blanket in the carrier when you go for the appointment. Your cat can even use it as a way of hiding during the appointment, which the veterinarian can work around to complete a physical exam.
Once in the veterinary clinic, notify or remind the staff that your cat is easily upset. It is important not to become outwardly stressed yourself during the exam, and try to avoid making any loud noises, whispers (which sound like a hiss to the cat) or sudden movements.
If you don’t have one already, purchase a cat carrier with quick-release latches so the top of the carrier can be easily detached. Your cat can remain in the bottom of the carrier, with the scented blanket or towel during the exam. You will find this approach much easier than having to fight and pull your cat out of the carrier for her exam!
An easier visit will allow you to concentrate on your cat’s health rather than on her anxiety. This small investment of time will make veterinary visits more palatable for you, your cat and your veterinarian. And remember, if none of these methods work, we can always come to you and make a house call to treat your pet in the comfort of your own home!
Jeremy Lancer, BVSc