Help! My cat doesn’t want to go to the vet

Taking an older cat to the veterinary clinic can be stressful for both of you – so don’t miss our step-by-step guide to keeping them as calm as possible.

As our pets age, they’re more likely to experience health issues, which is why vets generally advise scheduling in check-ups more frequently for cats that have reached their senior years.

It’s also important to be alert to symptoms that an older cat may need veterinary attention, such as weight loss, or excessive thirst and urination. But getting the support they need is easier said than done if your cat doesn’t want to go to the vet!

A cat is most content in their own domain: patrolling the perimeter, chasing prey, playing, eating and sleeping. Familiar sights and smells are essential to a cat’s confidence. Taking them to the vet is rather like dropping them behind enemy lines – who wouldn’t be rattled by that? A veterinary surgery is full of scents and activity that would put a cat of any age on edge.

Some cats become rigid with fear when they go to the vet, backing into the furthest crevice of their carrier. Others are off and away as soon as the carrier door opens, to establish the lie of the land and make a bid for escape. And some will lash out with tooth and claw, meowing and spitting their dislike of this intrusion into their personal space.

For older cats, who may be increasingly infirm, anxious or set in their ways, a visit to the vet can be particularly stressful. And the situation is even more challenging if they are starting to experience age-related problems such as cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). Older cats with this condition can become easily confused – or fail to remember that they’ve sailed through previous vet visits with flying colours!

There are a number of things you can do to help an ageing cat who doesn’t want to go to the vet – before, during and even after the visit. Follow our step-by-step tips below to help make their next check-up as easy as possible for your pet.

Get your cat used to their carrier

Prepare well ahead for vet visits by familiarising your cat with their carrier. At home, keep the carrier somewhere that’s easily accessible to your older cat, so they’re more likely to use it regularly as a cosy spot to curl up, and avoid negative associations with going to the vet. The secure, enclosed space provides a greater sense of security for cats when travelling than a flimsy cardboard box from which your cat could more easily escape, doubling their (and your) anxiety.

Feed your cat well in advance

Car journeys or trips on public transport do not score highly on a cat’s list of favourite activities. Avoid any queasy episodes by ensuring your pet is fed at least six hours before you’re due to leave, to minimise the risk of car sickness and vomiting.

Try a cat-calming spray

Cats respond to certain calming aromas. Synthetic pheromone sprays, which you spray in the carrier at least 15 minutes before you head out, are worth a try. Or dab a soft cloth around your cat’s face to pick up their scent and wipe it around the carrier. If your cat still panics at the sight of the carrier box, keep calm and try gently wrapping them in their towel or blanket before carefully easing them into the carrier. Or try popping them in backwards so they can’t see the enclosed space approaching.

Travel in comfort – and bring bedding

If possible, pop the bedding that your cat usually uses into the carrier, or a favourite blanket. The familiar scent will help to ease their nerves. Ageing bones and joints can be fragile, so extra blankets or towels will also help soften the impact of any bumps and jolts during the journey. Some cats are extremely vocal once out of their comfort zone, and it’s upsetting to hear their distress. Cover the carrier, so visual stimulation is reduced to a minimum, and talk to your cat in soothing, reassuring tones.

Keeping your cat calm at the vet

Arriving at the veterinary clinic presents another set of worrying variables for your cat. Take care not to tilt or prang their carrier, and find a quiet spot to wait. Keep the carrier covered. Seeing, as well as smelling, dogs (who may also be vocalising their fears) is likely to be an immediate stress trigger. Some vets can arrange for you to wait in a designated ‘cats only’ area. Alternatively, ask if you can wait outside until you’re able to go directly into the examination room.

On the examination table

A good vet will know how best to hold and reassure an older cat while doing the vital health checks and procedures. You may be able to help as well, standing nearby, stroking your cat and talking to them to signal you’ve got their back. If there are any toilet mishaps, it’s only because they’re nervous, so keep the reassuring voice going.

Going home

Many cats, but especially senior ones, will need time to decompress after a visit to the vet. On the journey back, put their favourite comfort toy in the carrier. At home they may take themselves off to a secret spot for a restorative sleep. Leave them undisturbed save for putting out a treat or two for them as they may well be hungry, and a tasty nibble will lift their spirits.

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