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Ask Einstein: How Do I Stop Being Scared of Going to the Vet?

The vet doesn't have to be a scary place. Here's some advice on carriers and tips for the big day.

Dusty Rainbolt  |  Jan 12th 2015


Dear Einstein,

My mom’s stalking me with the evil carrier again. As soon as I saw it, I turned into Houdini and vanished. Don’t tell her I’m hiding inside the turkey roaster under the sink.

I’ve seen this horror movie before. She wants to shove me in that little box, where I’m going to puke up my breakfast all over a towel she hasn’t washed since the Carter administration. If that’s not gross enough, I’ll also empty all my other orifices, involuntarily of course. The vet, who obviously starred in that movie Saw, is going to shove a glass thing up my butt and punch pointy things through my skin. Can’t they just once take me to see something fun like The Birds?

Alfred

Hey Hitchcock,

If someone stuck something up your mom’s bum every time she got in the car, she’d want to stay home, too. From time to time, kitties gotta go to the vet. Even if you’re not sick as a dog, you should go see the vet once a year — twice a year if you’ve ridden more than eight trips around the sun. Your mom, the vet, and the vet’s minions need to do a better job of making you feel safe.

If she doesn’t own one, tell your mom to "just say no" to borrowed carriers. Being surrounded by another cat’s (or dog’s) scent and forced into his territory will make you want to reach for the Prozac. Speaking of anxiety, instead of Prozac, your mom can help you stay calm with some Bach Flower Remedies Rescue Remedy available at the health food store. She doesn’t have to pry open your mouth with a crowbar. She can put a couple of drops on the back of your ears and massage it in. It’s absorbed right through the skin.

Remember the saying, "You can catch more kitties with tuna than vinegar"? It applies to vet visits, too!

I bet you’d appreciate mom nuking that unsanitary towel and replacing it with a t-shirt she’s worn around the house. Her scent inside the carrier will help calm you. Your mom should help you modify the way you look at the carrier. Instead of only bringing out the vet transportation device when you’re about to endure a torture session with your friendly DVM, she can leave it out in all the time with the door ajar. You might even like hanging out there from time to time if you found treats and your favorite toys inside. Spritzing some Comfort Zone with Feliway on the interior walls transforms the nefarious transportation cube into a protective place to catch some Zzzzzs.

If the carrier still feels more like the Island of Dr. Moreau and less like the Sea of Tranquility, Mom can avoid the struggle and simply slip a pillowcase over you. Because it’s dark inside, we kitties find it comforting. Once you’re in the pillowcase, she can slide you into the carrier. A towel or towel thrown over the top helps you feel like you’re in a safe little cave or a turkey roaster. (Your mom can ask the vet can to keep the towel over your head while he examines you so you still feel hidden.)

Take a drive around the block

Rather than driving you around only when you have to go to your not-so-friendly vet, she should take you on a short car trip and give you a treat. Or maybe she can take you to the pet store (in the carrier) every now and then. While on a dry run, she can drop by the vet’s office long enough to play trick or (cat) treat with a couple of the vet techs. If the techs have time, they can take you into an exam room and let you chase your favorite bird toy around. When you have to go to the vet for real, you’ll already have a couple allies.

To prevent the exit of all those bodily fluids, hold off on lunch until after you return home. If you still get sick every time you travel, your mom can talk to the vet about medication for motion sickness.

A cats-only vet or a mobile vet coming to your home would probably keep your whiskers more at ease, but if you go to a multipetual vet, Mom should ask to wait far away from Dalmatian drool and Yorkie yapping. If there’s no special cat room, sit as far away from the pooches as possible.

Mom needs to tell the staff and the vet up front if you have specific problems. Seniors probably have joints that creak like rusty hinges, so she should point out the painful places before you feel obliged to. She can warn them about hearing, eyesight or pain issues that might make you testy or fearful.

Mom should ask the vet or office manager if you can be attended by the vet tech who’s best with kitties. They’re all trained to work with cats, but some have better table-side manners than others. If the vet tech tries to drag you out of the carrier by your scruff, mom should offer to show her how it feels. Instead, Mom should undo the bolts and disassemble the carrier. You can even hang out in the bottom half while they check you out. That way you feel less vulnerable.

Although everyone should take note of what a handsome guy you are, they shouldn’t stare at you. People think staring is a compliment, but if they’d studied felinese they’d know that kitties stare at each other as a threat or a display of dominance. And, there should be a nix on calming you down (and BTW, you are entitled to your panic) with "Sshhh." That may be comforting to humans and even dogs, but to dudes of our persuasion it sounds like another cat hissing at you. Hey, we’re back to feeling threatened again.

Speaking of tooth and nail, no one should punish you for trying to protect your posterior. But they shouldn’t reward you for growling or hissing. If it’s okay with the vet, Mom can reward you for tolerant behavior or distract you with treats.

Let’s play doctor!

At home, your mom could do some of the same weird things the vet does so you won’t be as scared. She can buy a cheap stethoscope (or a toy one) and listen to your heart occasionally. Better still, she could do a monthly exam, where she touches you all over and takes your temp. This might help her catch diseases early on. And if your mom is checking out your unmentionables, then, when a stranger takes liberties with you, it won’t be such an invasion of privacy. Personal invasions should always be followed with lots of praise and your favorite treat (unless the vet says you’re too sick.)

While the trip to vet is no walk in the park (maybe it’s more like a walk in the dog park), it doesn’t have to be a horror movie. A handful of treats, a cat teaser and some patience can turn the A Nightmare on Elm Street into a cat’s fantasy — like Willard.

Make the cat carrier your Lincoln limousine instead of “cats for clunkers”

To make the carrier a less scary place, your mom should:

  • Leave it out in the open all the time with the door ajar.
  • Place Mom’s (or Dad’s) unwashed shirt inside.
  • Occasionally toss some treats or toys in it.
  • Spray the carrier with Comfort Zone with Feliway before traveling.
  • Take short, safe trips around the block or to a pet warehouse every few weeks.
  • Enjoy turkey treats every few minutes while you’re in the car.
  • Make sure you arrive home to big reception of yummy food and lots of praise.

Do you have any other tips to getting kitty safely and happily to the vet? Let us know in the comments!

Read more about going to the vet with your cat:

Got a question for he who knows everything feline? Just Ask Einstein in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Letters don’t have to be written from the cat’s point of view.) Remember, any change in your cat’s behavior or activities could be a symptom of disease and should be investigated by your vet, even if it unfortunately involves glass tubes and cat posteriors.

About the author: Einstein’s assistant, Dusty Rainbolt ACCBC, is the vice president of the Cat Writers’ Association, editor-in-chief of AdoptAShelter.com, and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She’s the award-winning author of eight fiction and non-fiction books including her most recent paranormal mystery, Death Under the Crescent Moon.