How to make vet visits go smoothly
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 cat’s vet visits as calm and stress-free as possible.
If your cat hasn’t always lived with you, it might be hard to know how they’ve previously coped with vet visits. Even the most laid-back cats can become very agitated at being taken to a strange place with strange smells, noises and faces.
Whatever his or her past experience, helping your cat to be happy and calm about being handled will mean less stress for everyone when you do visit your vet. It means he or she will be able to examine your cat properly to check for any issues.
Take time to get your cat 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 on a table as well as on the floor so your pet 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 your cat and his or her carrier as soon as possible. Don’t just use it for vet visits or journeys but allow your cat to get used to playing and napping in the carrier, and offer 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 cat’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 pet and reduce their stress.
Your cat 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 do, so be sure to place his or her carrier in the well of the back seat to minimise movement.
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 pet, 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 healthy cat treats along to the surgery and ask your vet if they would mind using them during the examination to reward your pet. It’s important that treats are given when he or she 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 your cat has to be put into a strange basket or is so fearful it soils its blanket, make sure any spare bedding has been sprayed with a cat-calming spray. Do this an hour before a journey
If your pet belongs to a multi-cat household, also 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 your cat 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 them.