MINIMISING VET VISIT STRESS FOR YOUR CAT
Taking your cat to the vet can be a stressful experience not only for you, but also for your cat. The good news is that it doesn’t need to be and a little advanced preparation can go a long way to helping your cat remain calm.
1. Any trip to the vet will require a cat carrier to keep your cat safe and secure while they are being transported to the clinic and whilst waiting to see the vet. If your cat only ever gets placed into a cat carrier when they are going to the vet, then they will naturally associate it only with this experience. Historically if this has turned out to be a negative experience, then the association with the cat carrier will also be negative and your cat may try to avoid going into it.
How to familiarise your cat with a cat carrier:
The easiest way to familiarise your cat with a cat carrier and build a positive association with it, is to start by randomly leaving the cat carrier on the floor at home with the door open and placing some cat kibble inside it. Cats are naturally curious and once they have reassured themselves that there is no imminent threat, they will generally want to explore the carrier and eat the food. Over time, you may also find that if you place a bed in there your cat may become relaxed enough to take the odd nap in there, potentially even viewing it as a safe place to retreat to.
Gradually build up their experience of the carrier, closing the door and moving them from room to room in the house. Depending on their response, you could even consider taking them out and about in the carrier to safe and cat-friendly destinations other than the vet.
Always reward them for remaining calm both during the journey and when you reach your destination.
2. The next hurdle to overcome, is to get them used to being handled in quite a specific way e.g. as a vet would conduct a physical exam. If you routinely perform ‘rehearsal’ check-ups at home, this gets your cat used to having their eyes, ears and mouth looked at and their body examined. Not only will it make the experience of a check up at the vet much more of a familiar and routine experience for your cat, but it also allows you to examine your cat regularly yourself. During these routine home checks you can also groom your cat, clip their nails, clean their ears and pick up any early signs of potential problems.
The Day of the Visit
If you have an appointment to visit your vet and your cat lives both inside and outside the home, it’s a good idea to keep your cat indoors on the day of the visit. This means you don’t need to worry about finding your cat, should they be out exploring the neighbourhood at the time of the appointment. Encourage your cat to enter the cat carrier of their own accord by placing it on the floor and leaving it open, with a comfy bed inside. It’s also a good idea to bring a towel with you, so that you can cover the carrier and prevent your cat from seeing things that may stress him (e.g. other cats or big, slobbery dogs) both on the way to and once you’re at the vet clinic. Additional bedding may also be a good idea in case of any accidents en-route.
Finally, it’s important to remain calm yourself throughout the vet visit. Cats will pick up on your mood and any anxiety that you’re feeling, but conversely will also be more likely to remain calm if you are. Using a low tone of voice and keeping your voice quiet will also be reassuring for your cat. If your cat isn’t scheduled for any surgery, you can also consider bringing some food with you and using it to reward calm behaviour throughout the visit.