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Behaviourist's Corner

How to calm a scared cat for a stress-free vet visit


Does the thought of taking your cat to the vet fill you with dread? Our expert's advice can help make it a calmer experience for both you and your pet.


Cat

1. Get your cat used to her carrier

Have you ever geared up for a visit to the vet, only to find the catflap blowing in the breeze as your pet hightails it out of there? This isn't a new-found feline psychic power: 'It's actually the sight of the cat carrier that rings her alarm bells,' says Inga MacKellar, an APBC animal behaviourist. 'Your cat has come to associate the carrier with the fearful experience of being bundled into it and then taken on a noisy bus or car journey. As cats rarely venture beyond their own home territory, any trip away from their familiar surroundings can be very stressful for them - meaning it needs to be handled with great care.'

You can greatly reduce the stress factor for you and your cat by keeping her carrier out permanently, or leaving it out for several days before the vet visit. Clicker training can be a great way to ease your cat into her carrier, or you could also try putting her usual blanket in it, so she enjoys venturing inside and sleeping on it.

'Scent is very important to cats, and yours will be much happier to go in the carrier and settle down if she can smell her own pheromones on the bedding,' says Inga. 'If that's not possible, use a synthetic pheromone spray instead, and spritz it in the carrier at least half an hour before use.

'It's also crucial to cover the carrier with a blanket or towel at all times. A stressed and frightened cat wants to hide in the dark, not feel exposed to the world, so keep her under wraps.'

Cat

2. Limit your time in the waiting room

The smells and sounds of the waiting room experience might make your cat feel scared, which can make you feel stressed, too - something your pet is bound to pick up on, and can in turn increase her fear even further. 'Limit the time you spend in the waiting room by keeping your cat outside in the car until you're about to be called into your appointment,' Inga advises. 'If your practice has the time and is happy to help, it can be a good idea to have a quick word with the receptionists and ask them to phone you when it's your pet's turn.

'Some veterinary surgeries have special quiet, cat-friendly waiting areas, so it's worth seeing if there's a practice near you that offers this kind of space. If you do have to be in the main waiting area, steer clear of anyone with a dog and keep your cat's carrier covered and on your lap so that no other animals can come sniffing around and potentially upset her,' says Inga. And don't worry about having to be polite for the sake of it. 'Keep anyone who wants to peep in and say hello to your pet at a distance. The fewer disturbances she has, the better,' says Inga.

Some cats will be reassured by their owner's familiar voice and touch, so stroking her and talking to her through the carrier can help. But never be tempted to open the carrier - no matter how pitiful her meows are - as she may well make a dash for freedom.

Cat

3. Take a treat with you

Once in the consulting room with the vet, your cat may refuse to come out of the carrier, and could try to bite or scratch at any attempt to entice her out. 'Your vet should be adept at gently handling stressed animals, but make sure to stick with one who you know is strong on these skills, as well as on medical knowledge,' advises Inga. She also recommends investing in a top-opening cat carrier, preferably with optional opening flaps on the side. 'If she's lifted out from the top, rather than being dragged reluctantly out of a more traditional tunnel-shaped carrier, she'll be calmer and less likely to try to defend herself with her claws or teeth,' says Inga. 'Ideally, lift her out from the top yourself, and calmly talk to her and stroke her while doing so.

'If your cat is super-stressed she may need to be wrapped in a towel by the vet, so she can't scratch and bite while being examined. Once the vet has finished checking her, give her a special treat such as a piece of chicken. This will help her begin to form a positive association with the vet's room. And take it as a good sign if she tucks in, as a very anxious cat won't be tempted by food.

'Then place her back in the carrier, cover it once more, and pay your bill as quickly as possible. You could even check with your practice whether it might be possible for you to take your pet home, before nipping back in later to settle up and collect any medications.'


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