Fear Free Veterinary Visits for Cats
Most cats have some nervousness when visiting the veterinary hospital. Unlike dogs, cats rarely enjoy car rides and don’t usually visit fun places like dog parks or a friend’s house. In fact, they generally do not like to leave their personal territory. Fortunately, we have many techniques that can help lower their fear and anxiety surrounding these necessary visits.
Making the Carrier more Comfortable
The first point of resistance for many cats and their people is going into the pet carrier. Cats are not safe traveling in a car without being in a carrier, so making this process easier is important. To make their carriers more comfortable try leaving the carrier sitting out with the door open so they can explore it at their own speed. Perhaps even put a treat inside for them to find. A new kitten could even have a food dish inside their carrier and learn early on that the carrier is a safe, happy place.
Carriers that also open on the top, or can easily be taken apart can also be easier to use as you don’t need to try to coax a reluctant can in through a little door. Nervous cats often urinate or defecate on the car ride, so it’s a good idea to have a towel or other comfortable absorbent bedding in the carrier to sit on.
In the hospital we use a product called Feliway. It’s a calming cat pheromone. It is available for purchase and could be used in the carrier to make the ride less stressful as well.
As much as possible, try to keep the carrier even and stable when carrying it so your cat feels safe.
The Car Ride
Cats are sensitive, so anything that can make the drive to the veterinary hospital calmer will help them. The most secure location for the cat carrier is the floorboard behind the passenger seat. Carriers that are too large for that spot should be secured so they don’t slide or tip while driving.
If the car is very hot or cold, letting it come to a more comfortable temperature before putting the cat inside can be helpful.
When you go into an exam room, you might notice soft music playing. Studies have shown this to be calming for both dogs and cats. Playing music is also something you can do on the drive to the hospital if you like. Audiobooks, or calm talking have also been shown to work well.
Treats and Toys!
We have special treats for cats and toys in the hospital, and many cats respond well to these. If your cat has any allergies or sensitivities, please let us know so we can offer them the best. If you are having an in-person exam and your cat has a favorite brush or toy, you could bring that along for them to hold, or have nearby during their appointment. Unfortunately, we can’t take these items in for curbside or drop-off appointments, and these special items will need to stay with you.
If our usual calm handling techniques don’t ease your cat’s stress enough to complete the exam or any procedures needed, we might recommend postponing for another day. We may offer to send home a ‘Comfort Kit’ and reschedule the appointment. A ‘Comfort Kit’ is composed of mild sedatives that won’t knock your cat out or make them fall asleep, but will just relax them somewhat and usually we are able to then complete any treatments safely and without additional fear or nervousness for your cat. If you know even before your visit that your cat has a lot of anxiety visiting the veterinary hospital, please feel free to call us ahead of your appointment, or even while making the appointment and let us know if you think your cat would benefit from a Comfort Kit and we can likely make one available for you ahead of time. Usually your cat would need a dose the night before, and then again a few hours before their appointment. So you would want to leave yourself enough time to come in and pick the medication up ahead of time.
More rarely, a cat will have such severe anxiety about visiting the hospital that they will require full sedation to be handled. If your Veterinarian recommends this for your cat they will discuss a plan with you.
What you can do
Stay calm and relaxed. When we have had stressful experiences taking our pet into the veterinary hospital, we learn to be anxious about the experience as well. Our pets are very sensitive to our emotions. If you are dreading the veterinary appointment, your cat will likely pick up on your worry. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your appointment so that you don’t feel rushed, and have time to handle problems or delays if your cat is resistant to leaving for the visit. Use a calm voice with your cat, both when preparing to come to their appointment, and at the hospital.
If either you or your cat has anxiety around visiting the veterinary hospital, we have many proven techniques that can help. Our goal is providing the easiest, most comfortable experience we can for you both, and any recommendations we make will be with that ideal in mind. We hope this information will help you understand why we offer the advice we do and give you some tools to extend these techniques ahead into your preparation for your visit.