It is not easy to earn a cat’s love, and it’s even harder as a vet. It seems that cats take longer to warm up to people to try to give them vaccines.
Luckily, our veterinary profession is finding new ways to keep kitties happier at the vet.
My hospital just finished a handout for our clients about making their cats’ visits low-stress. Here are some of the highlights:
An Exam for Every Cat Every Year
If you went to the doctor as often as your cat does in cat-years, you would only see a doctor every 5 years. Imagine how much can change in 5 years!
A complete physical exam will screen for early signs of disease like enlarged thyroid glands, heart murmurs, and strangely shaped kidneys. Routine bloodwork can reveal invisible signs of disease like diabetes. Most common diseases don’t discriminate between indoor and outdoor cats, so an annual exam is important for both.
So how can we make your cat’s annual vet visit happier?
Preparing for the Vet
The Ideal Carrier
Soft sided carriers can press up against a cat during the trip, are difficult to secure with a seatbelt, and make it harder to remove your cat.
Making the Carrier Less Scary
1. Clean the carrier with an enzyme based cleaner like Nature’s Miracle. This gets rid of smells that might make your cat fearful.
3. Make the carrier part of your cat’s normal routine. Gradually move their food bowl closer to the carrier and eventually inside it. Try putting favorite toys, catnip, or treats in the carrier. This process can take weeks to months, so be patient.
4. Put warm, soft bedding that smells like you or your home inside the carrier.
5. Buckle the carrier securely in the car’s back seat so it doesn’t move and jostle as you drive. Some cats want the carrier covered with a towel and some want a view, see what works best for your cat.
6. Spraying pheromones like Feliway in the carrier can have a calming effect on your cat. Use these 30 minutes before putting your cat in the carrier to allow alcohol components to dissipate.
Anticipating the Visit
Desensitize your cat to handling at home if they are safe to handle. Give a favorite treat or toy while handling their ears, paws, belly, tail, and mouth. You can even learn how to desensitize a pet to injections at home.
Pick a cat friendly veterinarian. Even if we try not to discriminate, vets are dog or cat people too. Don’t be scared to ask the receptionist if there is a doctor who is more comfortable working with cats. Look for membership in the Catalyst Concil or AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners) as another clue.
Schedule your cat’s appointment for a quieter part of the day. The middle of the week and the middle of the day are usually quieter at a vet hospital. Let the receptionist know your cat gets nervous or aggressive so they can prepare to make the visit as stress-free as possible.
Take away your cat’s food the night before your visit if your pet is completely healthy. Then, bring some food and treats to the vet for a more positive experience.
Give any anti-nausea or anti-anxiety medications as directed by your vet.
Getting Your Cat in the Carrier
Keep calm. Cats are very good at reading our stress and anxiety.
Put warm familiar bedding in the carrier.
Let your cat walk into the carrier on their own. If you have trained your cat to like the carrier and expect to find treats, toys, or food in there, this will be easier. If they still do not like the carrier, put them in a small space with few places to hide, cover the carrier with a towel, fill the carrier with tasty treats, and leave the carrier door open.
If your cat will still not go into the carrier, take the top of the carrier off, place your pet in the bottom half, and replace the door and top of the carrier. This is less stressful for your pet than forcing them through the door of the intact carrier.
Once You Get To the Vet
Once in the exam room, leave your cat in the carrier if they get very nervous or aggressive. Do not take them out until the doctor is ready to examine them.
If your cat is usually calm, open the door to the carrier and let them come out on their own. Close the door to their carrier behind them. Some cats are more comfortable if they have completely explored a room before the doctor comes in. Avoid forcing your cat out of their carrier.
Put the soft bedding you brought with you on the exam table or in your lap for your cat’s exam.
Summary & Resources
Though it takes some time and effort, these tips should make your yearly vet visit less stressful on you and your pet.
For more information, look at the resources we used:
– The Catalyst Council – http://catalystcouncil.org/ – an organization trying to change cat’s veterinary experiences for the better.
– The American Association of Feline Practitioners – http://www.catvets.com/ – an organization of veterinarians who has a special interest in cats and feline medicine.
– Dr. Sophia Yin – http://drsophiayin.com/ – A veterinarian who has focused on teaching vets and their staff to handle dogs and cats in a less stressful way.