Taking The Stress Out Of A Trip To The Veterinarian

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  • August 22nd is Take Your Cat to the Veterinarian Day, and what better time to write an article on why all cats need to see a veterinarian, but also how to make it stress-free for cat, owner, and the veterinarian.

    The vet’s office is a scary place for cats; in fact, most cats don’t like to be taken out of the house (their comfort zone), period. But there are ways to ease the stress of the veterinary visit.

    Why do I need to take my cat to the veterinarian?

    It stands to reason that a cat who is sick or injured needs medical attention, but healthy cats need this too. Book an appointment at least once a year for a general health check, which should increase to twice a year from six to seven years of age.

    General health checks can provide the opportunity to speak to your veterinarian about parasite treatments (even indoor cats can get parasites), vaccinations, nutrition, and any other questions you may have.

    Cats are masters at hiding pain and sickness, and regular veterinary visits can help to pick up on these diseases before they have progressed too far.

    Choosing a veterinarian

    Look for a veterinarian who practices Fear Free or Cat-Friendly practices.

    Check online for reviews and ratings on the practice.

    Ask for feedback from friends or neighbours.

    If possible, find a feline-only veterinary practice.

    Handle your cat, frequently

    It can help if the cat gets used to being examined from an early age, and I always recommend pet owners schedule time to perform a monthly health check. Pet owners may not be veterinarians, and should never replace veterinary care with home treatments, but we are the cat’s first line of defence, and health conditions can be picked up earlier if we are taking an active role in our cat’s health.

    The health check should be quick, and as unintrusive as possible and if the cat shows signs of stress stop. The goal is to get the cat used to being examined and possibly pick up symptoms between regular veterinary visits.

    • Check the cat from nose to tail, run your hands along the body to feel for lumps and bumps as well as evaluate body condition and weight.
    • Check the eyes, nose, and ears for discharge.
    • Gently separate the cat’s lips and check the gums for signs of redness, broken teeth or tartar.
    • Look at the cat’s paws and claws, and if necessary, trim the nails.

    Give the cat lots of gentle praise and treats and stop.

    The cat carrier

    Most cats have learned to associate the cat carrier with the vet, and it immediately triggers fear, stress, and anxiety. We can change this by making the cat carrier a place of comfort. To do this, it is necessary to change the focus of the carrier from the scary box that transports the cat to the vet into a place of shelter.

    Leave the cat carrier out all of the time. Put a soft blanket inside and make it a mini cat-condo, place your cat’s favourite treats or some catnip toys inside the carrier.

    Growing up, we sat the carrier next to a warm radiator and as children, we were told that if the cats were in the carrier, we had to leave them alone. This made it their safe place to go.

    Choosing the right carrier:

    Look for a carrier that can be opened from the top as well as the front, this can make it easier for the veterinarian to lift the cat in and out of, and in many cases, the veterinarian can examine the cat still in the carrier, once the top has been removed.

    Choose a plastic carrier that is easy to clean and disinfect.

    The right size of carrier is important, a huge carrier is going to cause the cat to rattle around in the carrier, and a small one can be uncomfortable for a large cat. There is no one size fits all carrier.

    Schedule short hello trips to the veterinarian

    Once the cat is used to and comfortable with the cat carrier, you can start with pop-in visits to the practice to say hello with your cat. If your cat is food motivated, have the veterinarian or receptionist offer the cat a treat. That way, they can change their association of the practice as a scary place to one where they receive cuddles and treats.

    Booking the appointment

    When you book an appointment, ask the staff when the quietest time and day is and try to book that if possible. Some practices schedule times where they only see cats or dogs.

    Prepare notes and questions

    Your veterinarian doesn’t want to be bogged down with a 500-page list of information or questions, but certainly, if you have questions, write them down before the visit, so you don’t forget during the appointment.

    If you are seeing the veterinarian about a medical issue, it can help to bring along a record which includes:

    • Symptoms
    • When they started
    • Underlying medical conditions
    • Medications (including prescribed, non-prescribed, supplements and parasitic)

    Before you leave home

    Spray a small amount of Feliway into the cat carrier 30 minutes before you leave home. Feliway is a synthetic form of the cat’s feel-good facial pheromones. It comes in a plug-in form and spray form. Cats rub against things they consider to be theirs (table legs, the side of the sofa, your legs), and the pheromones released to give the cat a sense of comfort.

    Place an item of clothing belonging to your cat’s favourite person into the cat carrier to help calm him.

    If your cat suffers from motion sickness, your veterinarian will be able to prescribe a medication to help with this. Administer as prescribed before leaving the house. Common anti-motion sickness medications include dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), meclizine (Antivert, Bonine), promethazine (Phenergan) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Don’t feed the cat before leaving home.

    The journey to the veterinarian

    Place the cat in his carrier and into the car. Secure the carrier with a seat belt to prevent it from sliding off the seat if you have to brake suddenly.

    Never drive with the cat unsecured, this poses a danger to you, the cat and other road users.

    Some cats suffer from motion sickness. If you find this is the case, speak to your veterinarian about medicating the cat before transporting him. Several over the counter antihistamines can be used to treat motion sickness.

    When carrying the cat in his carrier, try not to carry it by the handle as this will cause the carrier to swing. Instead, hold the carrier close to your chest; it will make the cat feel more secure and less jolted. I also don’t trust the latches which hold carriers together 100% and worry the carrier might break open.

    In the waiting room

    Preferably the practice will have separate waiting areas for cats and dogs; however, this is not always possible. In which case, let the staff know you have arrived, and wait in the car until the veterinarian is available to see you. If it is warm, keep the air conditioning on to prevent hyperthermia.

    If this is not possible, bring the cat into the waiting room and position the carrier off the ground, such as on a chair or if safe, a desk or a shelf. Cats like to be up high, where they can survey their surroundings. If the cat is particularly nervous, place a blanket or towel over the carrier to create a cat cave.

    Keep the cat in the carrier until he is brought into the examination room; it is not safe to put a cat on your lap or in your arms while in the waiting room.


    • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

      Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio