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How Does Your Cat Behave at the Vet’s Office?

Is yours a terrified trembler? Extroverted explorer? Fractious fighter? How do you handle that?

 |  Jan 16th 2013  |   91 Contributions


Cats vary dramatically in their attitudes toward travel and what happens at the end of their voyage. Most cats, for example, don’t care much for a trip to the vet’s office, but they stoically bear it, knowing it happens only once or twice a year. They’ve come to realize that if they simply do the feline equivalent of smiling and nodding in the face of insanity, they’ll be back home soon.

But there are three types of cats whose dramatically different reactions to the vet can amuse, embarrass, guilt-trip, and even horrify their caretakers. I’ve had two of these extreme types of kitties in my life.

A Terrified Trembler in action. Frightened kitten by Shutterstock

The Terrified Trembler

The first phase of a Terrifled Trembler’s trip to the vet begins before you even leave the house. The minute he’s in the carrier, he begins singing feline dirges and begging for mercy. By the time you arrive at the vet’s office, the Trembler is huddled as far back in the carrier as he can get. In order to get him out for the vet to examine him, you either need to take the top off the carrier or dump him out the front door.

If he has even the slightest opportunity, the Trembler will bolt from the exam table and hide in the smallest, darkest corner of the room. When you pick him up, every muscle in his tortured body is rock hard with tension. His pupils are almost as big as his eyes, his whiskers are drawn back, and if you lean against the table the Trembler will push his face into the crook of your elbow, or anywhere else he can hide his head and pretend that he's in his happy place instead of the torture chamber.

By the time the checkup is over, the Trembler has left sweaty little pawprints all over the exam table -- and possibly a urine or fecal sample as well. If he hasn’t left one by the time he runs back into his carrier, he’ll probably do so on the way home.

My Dahlia was a Terrified Trembler. It wasn’t always that way, but after she was spayed her attitude toward the vet was never the same. It was heartbreaking to feel her trembling as she clung to me with every claw and buried herself in my jacket in a futile attempt to hide.

My new feline friend, Bella, is the consummate Extroverted Explorer. This photo was taken while she was waiting for her "meet and greet" visit with my veterinarian. Photo by JaneA Kelley

The Extroverted Explorer

The Extroverted Explorer is just that. She’s all over the place. She’s happy about getting into her carrier, and while she may cry a little bit in the car, it’s usually because she wants you to turn the music down so it doesn’t hurt her ears rather than because she’s miserable and frightened.

The Explorer doesn’t worry if a curious dog sticks his nose up to the door of her crate, and she happily woos everyone in the waiting room with her charms. Once you have her in the exam room and you open her carrier, she trots out, looks around, and immediately gets down to checking out her surroundings. “Under the table? Check. Stools for vet and client? Check. Scale? Check. Computer monitor? Check. Treats? Check -- oh, and there’s a treat for me! Oh, I hear people back there; can I go look?”

If there’s a cabinet, the Explorer will find a way to get on top of it, no matter how little space there is between it and the ceiling, often to the embarrassment of the vet, who suddenly realizes just how long it’s been since somebody dusted the top of the cabinet.

My baby Bella is an Extroverted Explorer. On her first visit to my veterinarian, I had to hold her still so the vet could take her vital signs. And yes, Bella did manage to jump four and a half vertical feet to get on top of the cabinet. At least she happily hopped back down when she was called.

A Fractious Fighter caught in mid-hiss. Angry black cat by Shutterstock

The Fractious Fighter

I’ve heard horror stories from people whose cats turn into writhing, gnashing whirlwinds of claws and teeth when they find themselves at the vet’s office. Even if it’s just for an ordinary checkup, the Fractious Fighter won’t let you get near him without leaving reminders of your foolishness. Even getting him into his carrier may require an hour of extra time for chasing and leather gauntlets to protect your hands and arms. You have to clench your teeth against the growls, screams and curses he’s hurling at you from behind the bars of his portable prison.

When you get to the vet, you see the fear in the receptionist’s eyes. When the tech comes to get you, his voice may tremble a bit as he calls Bloodfang’s name and beckons you into the exam room. The word AGGRESSIVE is written on his chart in large red letters and underlined multiple times. You know better than to open the carrier, especially if you forgot your gauntlets because you were running late due to the drama of getting Kitty into the carrier.

The exam usually involves the assistance of at least one tech wearing gauntlets of his own. Your cat may get "burritoed" for handling, or if his aggression is extreme, the clinic may even resort to sedation.

I’m grateful that I’ve never had a cat like this.

How does your cat behave at the vet? Please share your stories in the comments. Bonus points for photos accompanied by tales of funny (or horrifying) feline antics.

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