It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to quickly figure out that going to the veterinary clinic is not high on a cat’s list of favorite places to visit. If you look at it from your cat’s perspective, it certainly makes sense. Without any warning, the cat is shoved into a carrier, put in a car and whisked off to a place that smells, looks and sounds scary. Then, once in the exam room, the cat is pulled from the carrier, placed on a cold exam table and then poked and prodded. It makes perfect sense to her to fight with all her might to make sure she never has to go back there.
Since it certainly isn’t a good idea to avoid taking your cat to the veterinarian, you need to have a plan. If your current plan consists of chasing the cat through the house, cornering her and then battling to shove her in the carrier without ending up as if you were the victim of a furry slasher, then it’s time to come up with Plan B because Plan A is stressful, dangerous and totally counter-productive. Take a deep breath and relax because there is a better way to have less stressful veterinary visits.
Here is my list of DOs and DON’Ts:
Do look for a veterinary clinic that is feline-friendly. Look for clinics that have separate waiting areas for cats and have a separate feline-only exam room. There are even cat-exclusive veterinary clients.
Don’t choose a particular veterinary clinic based on convenience. Tour the clinic and meet the veterinarian(s) beforehand to make you’re comfortable that this is the right place for your cat.
Do pay attention to how the veterinarian treats your cat. Does the veterinarian take time to greet the cat and try to get her comfortable? Is restraint used immediately without first seeing if a “less is more” technique will be more effective and less stressful to your cat? Does the veterinarian communicate clearly to you?
Don’t just take the carrier out when it’s time to go to the veterinary clinic. This is sure to cause panic in your cat as she learns to associate its appearance with something unpleasant. Leave the carrier out all the time so it becomes a neutral object in the environment.
Do train your cat to become comfortable with being in the carrier. Offer treats and feed your cat near the carrier and then eventually inside the carrier so she associates it with positive experiences. Work up to being able to close the door, pick up the carrier and walk around the room.
Don’t try to grab your cat at the last minute before leaving the house for the veterinary appointment. This is how the experience ends up being very stressful with the cat ending up getting dragged out from under the bed and forced into the carrier. Plan ahead so you can do this in a relaxed way and so you don’t have to keep a large supply of Band-Aids in the medicine cabinet.
Do take the time to desensitize your cat to car travel. Put the cat in the carrier and then place the carrier in the car for a few minutes. In subsequent sessions work up to starting the engine and then take short drives around the block. To help a cat relax during car travel, the trip shouldn’t always end at the veterinary clinic.
Don’t forego your cat’s medical care just because of how she may react at the clinic. Routine veterinarian exams are crucial to your cat’s health.
Do periodic visits to the clinic just to get your cat comfortable with being in the environment. Quick visits, where the cat gets greeted or petted by a staff member may help reduce fear during future visits. This is especially beneficial if you’re training a kitten.