Your Challenge…Should you choose to accept it…Getting Your Cat to the Veterinarian
Does this sound familiar? You rush home from work to retrieve your cat for its veterinary appointment. You dig the carrier out of the garage, dust it off, and begin the search for kitty. Under the bed, in the closet, the kitty is nowhere to be found. Although nothing has been said out loud, somehow the cat “knows” that today is the day you are going to the vet! When you finally locate kitty – now you have to get her into the carrier. After several tries and much scratching and meowing the cat has been shoved into the carrier, you are running late, and this is how you arrive to our office.
Transporting your feline friend to the veterinarian can be one of the most stressful parts of the visit – for both for you and your cat. Here at MIVC, we want to make veterinary visits as efficient and stress free as possible for our cat owners. In today’s blog, I have compiled some tips for making this process smoother.
Understanding Feline Behavior
Helping Kitty Adjust to the Carrier
- Cats are most comfortable with the familiar, and need time to adjust. The veterinary visit is difficult because the carrier, the car, and the office are all UN-familiar things. Go slow and respect your cat’s need for time to become familiar with new situations.
- Stay calm. Cats (and dogs) can sense our anxiety and frustrations, which may cause them to become fearful and anxious.
- Cats do not learn from punishment or force. Give rewards to encourage positive behavior. If your kitty is sitting calmly by the carrier, provide a treat (food, affection, playtime). Rewards of this kind can also be used to help your cat become familiar with common events that occur during vet visits such as handling of the face, ears, and paws.
Getting an Unwilling Cat into the Carrier
- The goal is to make the carrier a positive place that is associated with rewards – one that the cat will routinely enter voluntarily. For this reason the carrier should be located somewhere quiet in the home where the cat likes to spend time (not buried in the garage). For all of you new kitten owners, this is a great thing to begin early in your cat’s life with you.
- Place familiar, soft bedding inside the carrier. Clothes or blankets with your home’s scent will make your cat feel more secure.
- Place treats, catnip, or toys in the carrier to encourage your cat to enter it at home. At first, you may only see the treats removed at night.
- It may take days or weeks for your cat to trust the carrier, particularly if it has not been a positive experience in the past. Be patient.
Using Feliway (feline facial pheromone)
- Start by putting the carrier in a small room with few hiding places. Bring the cat into the room and close the door. Move slowly and calmly, try not to chase the kitty. Instead, encourage her to come out using treats or toys.
- If your cat will not walk into the carrier, and it has an opening on top, gently cradle your cat and lower it into the carrier. Alternatively, if the top portion of the carrier is removable, you can place your cat in the bottom half and slowly reattach the top half.
Coming Home – Tips for Multi-cat Households
- This is a synthetic copy of a pheromone cats use to mark their territory as safe and secure. Try spraying the carrier with Feliway 30 minutes prior to loading you cat into the carrier.
What Type of Carriers are Best
- Cats are very sensitive to smells, and unfamiliar odors on the cat returning from the veterinarian may cause the feline family to momentarily fail to recognize each other.
- Leave the returning cat in the carrier for a few minutes to see how the rest of the cats react. If all is peaceful, you may carefully open the door to the carrier and allow the cats to reintroduce themselves.
- If there is tension present, you may consider placing the returning cat in a separate room for the night (with food, water, and a litter box) to allow the familiar smells of home to be re-associated with the cat.
- It is usually best to transport cats in separate carriers, even if they are both visiting the veterinarian together.
- We prefer hard-sided plastic carriers that open from the top and the front, and can be taken apart in the middle when necessary. An easily removable top allows us to perform exams on anxious or painful cats without having to pull the cat out of the carrier, which only adds to their stress level.
- Some cats like to see out, whereas others are less anxious when the carrier is covered with a blanket or towel to prevent seeing the unfamiliar. Particularly if your cat is not familiar with dogs, we recommend covering the carrier with the towel so they do not see dogs in the waiting room.
- We are currently in the process of making our hospital more “feline friendly” so that cats will no longer have to encounter dogs in the waiting room. Stay tuned!
The tips in this blog were compiled by Dr. Mulvaney from a CEVA Animal Health document, in collaboration with the AAFP and ISFM. Visit www.catvets.com and www.isfm.net for more details.