Did you know that August 22nd is National Take Your Cat To the Vet Day?
Did you know that 52% of cat owners DON’T take their cats to the vet?
Why? The stress of veterinary visits for cats (and owners) is the #1 reason, followed by the cats’ penchant for hiding when they know something is up.
Taking your cat to the vet annually (every 6 months for cats over 10 years of age) is very important for early disease detection. Cats suffer silently, often not alerting us when they aren’t feeling well, so it’s important a veterinarian run annual blood work and evaluate your cat’s health. Just like with humans, if disease is caught early, treatment options, and survival rate are increased.
So let’s help you take the stress out of vet visits!
Take these steps weeks or months before the vet visit – it is never too early to prepare; it takes a while for your cat to become comfortable with carrier rides.
Top Loading Carrier – First, obtain a carrier that is easy to remove the top. This will allow the cat to stay in the comfort of his carrier while the vet examines your cat. Top loading carriers are also much easier to load a cat from the top, versus forcing them through the front door – which is the primary action that sets off the chain of stress events. I have a few I recomment on our resources page here: https://www.catbehaviorsolutions.org/resources
Feliway Wipes – Use stress-reducing pheromone wipes inside the carrier – once when you first put it out and then each time before the vet visits – I have a link to these on our resource page also.
Leave it out – The carrier is typically kept in the garage or a closet until it’s time to go to the vet. A cat quickly associates the carrier with something uncomfortable and as soon as they see it, they hide – or maybe even become aggressive out of fear. So let the carrier become part of your cat’s regular environment. The more the carrier is incorporated into the cat’s normal environment and routine, the better.
Open Doors - Get some short bungee cords (I have some of these listed on the resource page too) and secure the front and top door open so they don’t accidentally close on the cat as he explores the carrier, which would result in him feeling trapped and stressed out – which is what we’re trying to avoid.
Blanket Inside – Put a towel or small blanket inside the carrier. Do not wash it – you want this blanket to accumulate your cat’s scent.
Treats – Toss treats inside the carrier when your cat is near it, and leave treats in it when he is not. Creating a treat trail leading to the carrier door encourages the cat to explore inside. If you have a short amount of time to condition before the vet visit, you can even begin to feed the cat inside the carrier. All of this associates something great with going inside.
Toys – Toss toys inside the carrier – this is another way of pairing something good to the strange item.
Close Doors – Once your cat is comfortable going in and out of the carrier, try tossing a favorite treat in and then close the door behind him. Let him sit in there for about 15 seconds before letting him out. Upon exit, give him another treat. I like using the Wildly Natural treats because they are small and won’t fill your cat up too quickly. We sell them here in the behavior boutique: https://www.catbehaviorsolutions.org/product-page/wildly-natural-cat-treatsExtend the time your cat is closed in the carrier up to about 1 minute.
Pick Up – Once the cat is comfortable in the carrier for a minute or more, cover the carrier with a towel and pick it up and walk around your house. Do this at least once a day for a few days – always giving a treat when the walk is over. Then walk outside with the carrier – no more than a few minutes at a time; always ending with a treat.
The Ride – The safest place for the carrier is on the floor behind the passenger seat. If your carrier is too large for the floor, put the carrier in the back seat and secure the seatbelt through the handle. This will help reduce the scare nd distraction of slipping, tipping and moving in the car. Start with short rides about 5 minutes long. Give treats at every red light and when you return home. The cat will soon associate going for a ride as something he gets rewarded for. Be sure to play quiet, soothing music in the car with the cat; this is not the time to rock out at high volumes. Cats’ hearing is very sensitive and loud noises are frightenening to them.
The Vet Visit – Often, the waiting room in the vet’s office is the most stressful for your cat because of the other animals in the waiting area and strong odors from other stressed felines. Be sure to keep the carrier covered so your cat is not stressed out by the sights. Call the vet office from the parking lot and tell them you have a cat there for an appointment. They may let you wait in the car, and call when a room opens up so you can bypass the waiting room all together.
The Exam – Once you are in the exam room, remove the top of the carrier and allow your cat to stick his head out and smell the new environment. Talk in a soothing, calming voice and give treats often. When the vet arrives, tell them you’d prefer for your cat to be examined in the carrier if he is too shy/fearful. If your cat is confident, be sure to put his towel/blanket down on the exam table for him to have familiar scent under him. Never place the cat directly on the cold, slick exam table surface. Continue to give treats every few minutes as he is going through the exam process.
This process is gradual desensitization; paring something perceived as scary with something great. Eventually the good car rides outweigh the annual vet visit and the sight of the carrier no longer sends him into panic attacks.