What is the best way to get my cat to the vet? It seems to really stress her out.

Cats don’t like going to the vet. However, the cat that is rarely seen by a veterinarian is at risk of developing health problems that are often missed by the owner until it is too late.  So, what should we do?

First, one should acclimate the cat to a sturdy plastic travel carrier.  Include the carrier in the cat’s environment at home to desensitize your pet to its presence.  Offer special treats within the carrier, such as catnip, gourmet canned foods, bite sized treats, etc.  Additionally, pretreating the travel kennel with a product called Feliway, may alleviate stress of travel. Some cats are willing to sleep in an opened carrier, especially if it is elevated on a shelf and has a good view of the room.  Try taking the top off and allowing the cat to sleep in the bottom half with a comfortable bed in it.  Eventually, take the cat on short, slow car rides (maybe just once around the block) while inside the carrier to acclimate them to car travel.  When the day comes for the veterinary appointment, try to keep the cat confined to the house or within a room so you can locate him easily.  Try to encourage him into the crate without coercion.  Some cats will respond to being placed into a soft sack or pillow case first, then placed into the crate hind-end first.  Sometimes wrapping the cat in a large towel and doing the same will suffice.

Bring something from the home that has a familiar odor on it.  If your cat has developed a liking to catnip, this can be a relaxing substance to place in the crate or bedding that is included in the travel crate.  Notify the veterinary team that you’re on your way so that they can prepare a room for immediate availability, or at least a private waiting area, if it is a busy time of the day.  Try to schedule non-emergency visits at times of the day when it is typically not busy at a veterinary clinic.  These time slots might correlate to school commutes when most other pet owners are picking up or delivering children to school.  Maybe the middle of the day is better before most owners are off of work.

Additionally, the FRAH will now be offering “Cat Only Saturday” appointments.  Watch for these announcements by ’email blast’.  Sign up for our correspondence, if you are not already receiving emails from us, so you and your feline pal will not miss out!  When you do arrive at the veterinary office, keep your cat carrier covered with a small towel (you can cut a slit in it so that the handle can be operated securely and the towel does not slip off the top of the crate).  If your cat is already in the pillow case, this step may not be necessary, but it certainly will cut down on strange odors and scary sights.

Once in the room, avoid acting tense around your feline friend who might be looking to you on how to gauge the situation.  Let him walk around the enclosed exam room and get acclimated to the room.  Give him a chance to look around instead of clutching him in your lap. Your feline friend will be looking to your body language for clues on what is about to happen.  Act nonchalant about the visit. Touch and stroke the cat on the areas of the face, cheeks and ears.  Do not touch the rear, back, or haunch area, as this can be a very sensitive area that arouses the cat and can make him irritable and grouchy.  For especially nervous cats, pre-arrange to have some sedation dispensed to administer to the cat before the trip to the vet’s office.  Or, we can sedate the cat when it arrives with drugs that also have an amnesic effect.

The return home can be equally stressful for some feline patients if they are met with hostility from their fellow housemates. Smells from the vet clinic, or odors of metabolizing anesthetic byproducts, might interfere with recognition of an old friend and be confusing to some cats.  Allow some time for the other cats to recognize their comrade before releasing him from the carrier.  Don’t ‘force’ the cats to have a reunion or a communal feeding, upon its arrival home. After some time open the crate and allow the cat to come out on its own.  Judge their reaction to one another.  You might need to place the returning patient in a quiet room with resources (water bowl and litter box, etc) for 24 hours before the other cats will show acceptance to re-introduction by a willingness to play with a toy or respond to food from both sides of the door separating their re-united housemate.  Go here for more detailed information on this subject.