Even a routine check-up at the vet can be stressful for your feline friend. Behaviourist Inga MacKellar discusses some preparation strategies that can help make those all-important visits less difficult for anxious cats.
From a cat’s perspective, going to the vet is not much fun. Not only do they associate it with being poked and prodded, having inoculations, or feeling unwell, but cats are naturally independent, sensitive to different smells and need to be in control of their surroundings – all of which can make visits to the clinic a bit tricky.
Preparation is key
In the consulting room, your cat will be examined on a table. At home, cats are often actively discouraged from getting up on tables and so may find the situation at the clinic strange – it’s a good idea to get her used to it in advance of the appointment. I recommend using a small folding table kept specifically for this task, ensuring the table surface is not slippery (which will panic her). Covering it with a rubber mat will do the trick.
Help prepare her for being handled by the vet by giving her a quick mock examination – look into her ears and eyes, and gently open her mouth and hold her feet. Something else that can be useful is pretending to listen to your cat’s chest with a toy stethoscope – this will help her become accustomed to what may happen during the appointment. The more often you repeat the experience in a non-threatening place, the more normal the situation will seem at the vet. Using treats while you do this can also help reinforce a positive association with being handled. Treats are useful for keeping your cat still in the appointment, too. Ensure that you have particularly tasty treats with you, such as chicken or prawns, which will help keep her focused on you.
Cats pick up on our anxiety, so approach a visit to the vet just like any other day. Staying calm and organised helps – don’t forget your cat’s health records, for example.
In the waiting room, place your cat’s carrier on your knee so she’s close to your smell rather than being on the floor where the scents of other cats and dogs may alarm her. If your cat is a particularly anxious patient, you could avoid the waiting room altogether. Ideally, go with another person who can wait with your cat in the car while you go into the practice, then you can collect her when the vet is ready to start the consultation. Another plus with two people is that while one of you pays the bill, the other can take your cat directly back to the car.
An ideal carrier for the appointment is one that opens from the top so puss can be gently and easily lifted out – although it might be possible to conduct some of the examination without removing her, to keep her reassuringly surrounded by her own scent. By all means also use a pheromone spray such as Feliway (a calming synthetic cat scent) but spray the carrier at least 15 minutes before putting your puss in it. Talk to her in a soothing voice – this is especially important if the vet is about to take her temperature or something similarly invasive. If the vet agrees, try stroking her or distracting her with a toy to keep her calm. Because cats feel safest in their own territory, try to keep the time spent at the surgery to an absolute minimum and get puss home to her familiar surroundings as quickly as possible.