Do you have trouble getting your cat excited about going to the vet?
If you do, you are definitely not alone. There are very few animals who LOVE going to the doctor (including humans!) and cats are no exception. You would not believe how many appointments we’ve had cancel because a pet parent couldn’t get their cat into the carrier. This can be a big problem when your cat is sick and we can’t find out what’s wrong or treat it. But just because cats tend to be difficult about going to the vet doesn’t mean you are stuck fighting teeth and claws to get into the carrier when it’s time for your kitty’s check up. Here are a few things that you can do at home to make vet visits easier for you and your feline friends:
Using the Carrier
Most cat owners have their carriers up and away in a closet or storage area until the dreaded vet visit day comes. If you think about that a little more, considering it from your cat’s point of view, would you like the carrier if you were them? Right now that carrier equals strange smells, scary car rides, and strangers poking them. To make trips to the vet (or car trips in general) a little easier for everyone, try to make the carrier not so scary. Keep it out in the open where your cat hangs out at all times. Put some blankets, toys, and even some treats in there. Let your cat get comfortable using this as a hiding place, bed, or feeding area. When we associate happy times (sleeping, lounging, eating, playing) with the carrier, we eliminate that initial fear of getting the carrier out. This way you will not only be more likely to be able to get the cat INTO the carrier, but also they will feel more at ease wherever they go in it.
Finding the Right Carrier
We recommend using comfortable but sturdy carriers. You can use a hard plastic carrier with lots of cozy blankets in it, or perhaps a specialty carrier like a SleepyPod which doubles as a bed and a carrier. These will provide a lot more security for the cat than a soft-sided carrier. We also want to try to avoid swinging or bumping the carrier, which is often easier with a hard carrier or a soft-sided carrier held from the bottom and not the handle. There are a lot of fun options (like backpack carriers?!) out there so feel free to explore and find the right fit for you and your cat, but the main things we are looking for are sturdy, comfortable, and easy to transport.
Over the Counter Products
There are a few pheromone products that have been proven to reduce stress. Our favorite of these is called Feliway. Simply spray the Feliway onto a blanket or towel that will be placed in the carrier. Wait a few minutes for the chemicals to settle before putting directly into the cat’s environment. It’s by no means a miracle cure, but it can absolutely take the edge off when used in combination with the other strategies listed in this list. This product also comes in a wall plug-in variety. We do carry this at our clinic!
If your appointment is coming up, you don’t want to be trying to get your cat into it’s carrier five minutes before you have to leave. We all know how smart and tricky cats can be when they don’t want to do something, so think ahead. You can get them into their carrier early if they don’t mind being in it. If they tend to be more stressed out when closed in the carrier, consider at least getting them into a small room (like a bathroom) within the hour before you leave. This allows you to be able to locate and round them up with enough time to take things slowly and carefully and reduce the stressful moments of “We have to go! Get in the carrier now!!”
Practice, Practice, Practice
If you have the time and can remember to do it, you can try to ease your cat into car trips. This means getting your cat into it’s cozy and comfortable carrier, taking them out to the car but not going anywhere. Make it a pleasant experience. Go slow and don’t start the car or slam the door on the first few times. If you can do this until your cat seems to not mind it as much, start gradually trying to drive down the street and back or perhaps even all the way to the vet and then back (or a similar distance) to get your cat used to the time in the car without anything scary happening. Avoid doing this if your cat continues to get stressed out or you are fighting them every time. We do not want to add traumatic experiences to their memory of the car and carrier. Only work on this if you can do it slowly and with a lot of attention paid to how your cat is feeling.
Find a Tasty Treat
This may be regular food if you’re lucky, or it could be tuna, cheese, or something else yummy. We are looking for a high-value reward, so not necessarily something that your cat gets every day. If you can test out a few treats to see if your cat goes crazy for them, then you can use that treat to your advantage in particularly stressful situations. Offer this high-value treat only when the cat is in the carrier, or at the vet. (Don’t be surprised if the cat is very interested in the treat at home, but not at the vet. Stressful situations can often make pets not interested in even their favorite things.)
Talk to us!
If you have tried everything you can think of, including the above tips, and your cat is still impossible to get into the carrier or into the car consider discussing this issue with our staff or doctors. There are some pharmaceutical options that we can prescribe to reduce anxiety for car trips or vet trips if nothing else seems to help.
If you want to learn more about these tips or take a look at some recommended products, check out the links below: