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How to get your Cat to the Veterinarian Stress Free

The majority of cats do not travel well. That could be one of the major reasons why many cats don’t go to see the veterinarian as often as they should, including for annual check ups. The biggest contributing factor as to why cat owners don’t take their cat to the vet is stress - for their cat and themselves. It can be a major undertaking just to get your cat into a carrier, and once you arrive in the waiting room at the vet office, your cat might start yowling or hissing at other cats, dogs or other animals.  

Fortunately for our cats physical and mental health—and ours—there is a shift toward low-stress veterinary care. Not only does stress negatively affect cats and create psychological trauma, it also can be so severe that test results are skewed and the immune system is weakened. If your cat has experienced a lifetime of anxiety, reversing their chain of reactions during the trip to the vet can be challenging. 

We have put together some practical pointers to help calm your cat (and you) before your next vet visit. Discovering methods of reducing the stress in your cat before and during a veterinary visit could go a long way in helping them never miss a vet appointment again. This could be very beneficial to your cat’s long term health, as regular visits to the veterinarian are the best plan for keeping a close eye on your cat’s overall health and behavior as it ages. 

Tips to Help Reduce Stress in Your Cat for their Next Veterinary Visit

Calm yourself first, then your cat

Animals have a sixth sense when it comes to our fears, emotions and actions. There’s a good chance your cat will feel stress if they know you are experiencing it yourself. We encourage you to present a calm demeanor to your cat, speak in a soft, confident voice and definitely don’t do anything out of the ordinary to upset or stimulate your cat. If you’re calm, and relaxed, your cat will be too. 

Let your cat get familiar with its cat carrier 

Many cats will only see their carrier come out when it’s time to visit the vet. This can create a negative association and lead to issues trying to get your cat inside its carrier. To avoid creating a negative association, leave the carrier out at random times, and treat it as the deliverer of delicious snacks instead. Place a few treats that your cat loves into the carrier, while leaving the door open. Make sure the carrier also has a soft blanket or familiar toy, and this will help your cat adjust and learn to associate good things with their cat carrier. 

Put soft, familiar bedding in your cat carrier

It's recommended that you line your cat carrier with a soft blanket that your cat would have interacted with and be very familiar with. Smell is important to cats. When your cat rubs its head on something, they are creating a scent.  Using an existing blanket over a fresh one will greatly help your cat. The existing blanket will smell like home and help bring familiarity and some comfort to their portable surroundings. Another helpful tip is to bring a second blanket or large towel to cover the cat carrier for more privacy. This could help calm an anxious cat down a little more both in the car and in the waiting room. 

Practice taking your cat out of your home 

If you have fears about how your cat will respond when you take it to the vet, try doing some dry runs at home. Let it get used to its cat carrier and try taking it around the block or to a friend or family member’s home. If it’s at all possible, see if you can take your cat to your veterinarian’s office for a “friendly visit” or two well before your scheduled appointment. If this is possible, it will help your cat get familiar with your vet’s office and could help bring their stress level down as it becomes more of a familiar place.  Make sure to have your cat's favorite snacks on hand and let the veterinary team offer them to your cat and let the veterinary staff interact with your cat as much as possible. 

Let your cat get familiar with their feet and ears being touched

Nail trimming and ear cleanings are two of the most routine procedures that a cat experiences at a veterinary clinic. Checking these areas are an important part of overall care because routine cleanings allow a peek inside your cat’s ears to catch an infection before it becomes painfully severe, while nail trims keep the blood vessel inside each nail trimmed back, avoiding the nails not being able to be trimmed short as the animal ages. 

Some cats do not respond well to having their feet and ears being handled, and often respond negatively when a stranger handles them. If your cat doesn’t like its ears and feet being touched, you can train them to enjoy the experience rather than dreading it. Start by having their favourite snack close by so they can focus on the treat while you clean or closely examine their ears or handle their feet. Distraction with toys, praise, and petting also work well in reducing fear and anxiety.

Schedule appointments that will benefit your cat’s behavior

When you are scheduling an appointment for an anxious cat, ask your veterinary office for the earliest time slot. Routine appointments can run long, emergencies take precedence, and sometimes you and your cat can end up waiting in a packed waiting room before being shown to a quiet exam room. The earliest time slot allows you to avoid the chaos of a jam-packed waiting room. If mornings won’t work for you and your cat, call ahead and ask the veterinary office if you can wait with your cat in the vehicle until an exam room is open. 

Ask your veterinarian for help

This may be the most important tip to help reduce stress in your cat. Ask your veterinarian or veterinary team for guidance in helping get your cat to their office with as little stress as possible. If your cat suffers from anxiety, your vet may recommend a mild sedative or another form of medication. Your veterinarian may also recommend other options to reduce your cat’s anxiety, such as compression wraps, pheromone sprays, or calming supplements. 

Alberta veterinarians, veterinary technologists and vet support teams are all animal lovers and will work with you to find the best solutions for your cat’s health.  We’re also here for cat owners to reduce your stress and provide you with the right solutions to best care for your feline friend. Don’t ever hesitate to reach out to your veterinary office, they’re here to help you and your cat. 

Further Reading:

Car Ride Anxiety in Dogs and Cats

Getting Your Cat into a Carrier

How can My Pet Have Stress Free Veterinary Visits