Cats like to have control over their environment so can be stressed by a trip to the vet. However, there are ways to minimise their discomfort. Pet behaviourist Claire Hargrave advises on how to make your kitten’s introduction to the vet as calm and stress-free as possible.
If your kitten is happy and calm about being handled, there will be less stress for everyone when visiting the vet – and will make it much easier for the vet to examine and treat your cat.
Get your kitten used to being physically handled at home by feeding them tiny treats, one at a time, as you very gently give them a head-to-tail checkup. Gently massage his or her ears, lift the paws up and raise the tail.
Gradually extend their comfort zone by inviting family members and friends to repeat the process. Do this on a table as well as on the floor so your kitten isn’t alarmed at finding they are on a raised surface in a surgery being handled intrusively by the vet.
Aim to create a positive association between the kitten and his or her carrier. Do this by allowing your young cat to get used to playing and napping in the carrier, and by offering treats when inside.
It’s a good idea to get a carrier with a hinged roof or one that comes in two parts. You can tuck your kitten’s regular bedding into the lower half (the familiar smell will make him or her feel safe), and the top half can be lifted off to allow your vet to examine your pet. This familiar environment will relax your kitten and reduce their stress.
Your kitten can also be wrapped in his or her blanket if they have to be removed from the box for further examination.
Cats don’t cope with car journeys as well as dogs, so make sure the carrier is placed in a secure position where it won’t tilt.
When you leave the car, hold the carrier in front of you instead of by your side where it’ll bump against your leg, to make it as comfortable as possible for your little passenger.
Once inside the practice, don’t place the carrier on the floor where other animals may upset your kitten, but on a chair or raised surface. A cat’s natural coping strategy for dealing with a stressful situation is to move to a higher place, so this will help them relax.
Reward the good
Take treats along to the surgery and ask your vet if it’s okay to use them during the examination to reward your kitten. It’s important that treats are given when your cat is calm as offering them to a nervous animal could actually reinforce anxious behaviour.
Never underestimate the importance of familiar scents to a cat’s sense of security. If a kitten has to be put into a strange basket or is so fearful that it soils its blanket, make sure any spare bedding has been sprayed with a synthetic cat pheromone (such as Feliway) which will help your little cat feel at ease. Do this an hour before a journey.
If your kitten belongs to a multi-cat household, take along a small cotton cloth that has been gently rubbed around the heads of all the household cats and place it in a sealed sandwich bag.
Rub this all over the kitten before re-entering the house to help replace the threatening outdoors smells with a smell of familiarity. The household cats may otherwise fail to recognise the returning member of their group and snub or even attack the kitten.