Does the thought of coaxing your cat into a carrier to take them to the vet make your skin crawl? It’s no secret that cats aren’t particularly fond of carriers, car rides, or being in an unfamiliar place where a cloaked stranger sticks a thermometer up their bottoms. But yearly wellness exams should be a non-negotiable part of cat ownership, so there will eventually come a time when you have to tote your cat to the vet.
We have put together a helpful guide to make the process easier for you and your cat. Read on to find our tips for making your cat’s next vet visit go as smoothly as possible.
Why Are Cats Afraid of the Vet?
Your cat’s ancestors were solitary hunters and survivors. They had but three goals in life: to stay safe, to stay fed, and to stay alive. While your kitty doesn’t need to hunt for their food or worry about predators lurking in your home waiting for a chance to snatch them, it’s still very much coded in their DNA.
Knowing that your cat is hardwired for fight-or-flight, you can look at every aspect of a vet visit with new eyes. Everything from being forced into a tiny scary box (a cat carrier), taken to an unfamiliar vessel that makes noise, hums, and vibrates (your car), and then involuntarily entering new territory full of other animals that could snatch you up in zero seconds flat (the veterinary clinic) is absolutely terrifying for them. It’s not hard to see why those yearly vet exams wreak havoc on your poor cat.
Additionally, a single stressful experience can have a long-lasting impact on your cat. One petrifying vet visit is all it takes for your cat to form negative associations with their carrier, your vehicle, and the clinic. It is of utmost importance, then, to ensure you’re doing all you can to make your cat’s next visit as calm and successful as possible.
Before You Begin: Things to Consider
Creating a less stressful trip to the vet does not happen overnight. Here are some things you can get ready a month in advance so you can use them in the tips listed in the article:
- Comfortable and size-appropriate carrier
- Small blanket or towel
- Pheromone spray
- Treats (for after the vet visit)
The 11 Tips to Make a Vet Visit Less Stressful for Cats
1. Keep Calm
Cats are highly intelligent creatures and can pick up on subtle shifts in your mood. If you feel anxious or stressed out about taking them to the vet, they may pick up on that and become anxious and fearful themselves.
Project a calm demeanor by talking to your pet in a low and soft voice, and avoid using high-pitched baby talk. Reassure them by petting them on the head or giving scratches in their favorite spot.
2. Come Hungry
Unless otherwise directed by your veterinary team, try not to feed your pet for several hours before their appointment. This will reduce the chance of vomiting, as well as releasing of the bowels or bladder during the trip.
Additionally, a hungry cat is more likely to be swayed by bribery (read: treats) as a distraction.
3. Make Positive Associations With the Carrier
Dogs are happy to go for car rides because they associate them with fun destinations, like the dog park. Unfortunately, most cats equate their carrier and car rides with scary trips to the vet, so who can blame them for being afraid of what comes next after you have gotten them into their carrier?
Try to create positive associations with the carrier by leaving it out at all times. When your kitty goes in to explore it, give them treats as a reward. If they won’t even look twice at the carrier, toss in a few high-value treats and leave the door open to coax them to explore it. Try spritzing a cozy blanket with Feliway pheromone spray and leaving it in the carrier so your cat will come to associate it with feelings of warmth and relaxation.
4. Take Your Cat for Drives
If your cat has a condition that requires frequent visits to the vet, you might consider getting them used to being in the vehicle. Part of what scares a cat about vet visits is the time spent in the car, a place they’ve never really been before. Taking them on short drives around the block a few times per week can accustom them to the sights, sounds, and feelings of being in the car and may make them less afraid for their drives to the clinic.
5. Cover the Carrier
Cover the carrier with a blanket as you travel from your home to your vehicle and while you’re in the car. Cats like to hide when they’re afraid, and if they’re cooped up in a small box with no hiding spots, they can’t hide very well. A blanket can provide the darkness they need to feel safe and secure. Choose a lightweight blanket and make sure there’s still good enough ventilation that your pet can breathe comfortably.
Note: Some cats may be more afraid to have their carrier covered as they’re not able to see you. Listen to the feedback your cat is giving you, and if you determine they’re more scared after being covered, remove the blanket.
6. Wait Outside Until Your Appointment Time
Veterinary clinics can be highly overstimulating for humans, let alone cats. They’re full of unfamiliar smells, sights, and sounds, so if you know that waiting in a noisy clinic with big, barking dogs will terrify your cat, wait outside until your appointment time. Call the clinic to let the receptionists know you’ve arrived. You will be waiting in the vehicle until the vet is ready to see your cat. Ask them if they can call you or come and get you to let you know when it’s time to go in.
7. Make Appointments Strategically
As mentioned, a veterinary clinic is a loud and scary place, so choose your appointment time strategically. Your clinic’s receptionists will know what time of day tends to be quieter for them, be it first thing in the morning or the last appointment of the day. Ask to secure one of these less busy time slots to minimize your cat’s exposure to the scary sights and sounds of the clinic.
8. Choose a Cat-Friendly Practice®
If you don’t yet have a chosen vet for your cat, we recommend opting for a Cat-Friendly Practice®. Established by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) along with the International Society for Feline Medicine (ISFM), this program is an initiative focused on elevating care for cats by reducing the stress they experience when they go to the vet. For clinics to earn this designation, they must demonstrate that they’ve taken specific steps to cater to the unique needs of cats. They have cat-only reception, waiting, and examination areas. The healthcare team has taken training to understand how to handle and better care for feline patients. Use this tool to find a practice near you.
9. Ask Your Vet for Advice
Some cats are so terrified of their carrier and visits to the vet that it is virtually impossible to get them to go for their yearly check-up. If this is the case for your pet, your vet may recommend an anti-anxiety medication to calm them down. They may also have suggestions for calming supplements that you can try to make the process easier on both you and your cat.
10. Give Lots of Praise and Treats
When you get home from the vet, let your cat know what a good job they did by giving them lots of praise and treats. Chances are they’ll fly out of the carrier the moment you open it, so give them time to calm down and recuperate before accosting them with treats.
11. Keep the Peace
If you have other cats in the home, your goal upon returning from the vet is to keep the peace. Cats are sensitive to smells, and unfamiliar scents can make it impossible for your other kitties to recognize their housemate, even if they are only gone for an hour. Leave the returning cat in the carrier for several minutes to gauge the reaction of your other cats. If you sense tension between them or if previous veterinary visits have resulted in conflict, keep your kitty in the carrier and move them somewhere they can be away from the other cats before letting them out. Provide them with water, food, litter, and toys until they’ve had time to regain the scent of your home.
No cat or human owner enjoys going to the veterinarian, but it is one of those necessary evils of cat ownership. Equipped with our tips above, you should be able to make your next vet visit smoother and less frightening for your cat.
Featured Image Credit: H Ko, Shutterstock