Imagine a vet visit from the cat’s perspective. You are happily lounging in a familiar and happy spot. The next thing you know, your human is trying to convince you that cramming into this strange plastic box is a good idea. If, out of curiosity, you happen to get in the box to check it out, the door is shut behind you. You are locked in.
The plastic box is too small to relax in and it smells funny. That is scary, but you have no warning for what torture is about to come next: the plastic box floats in the air. It does not float smoothly like a magic carpet ride. No, it floats like a plane experiencing storm-like turbulence. This turbulence finally comes to an end in an even bigger metal box that also moves. This box moves with very strange noises and in unpredictable ways – and your little plastic box jiggles around in this bigger metal box. The next thing you know, you are in a strange place with many animal smells and dogs barking and people talking….when you realize that you did not have a chance to use the litter box before coming.
The plastic box is finally opened – and to your horror – there is a complete stranger standing there wanting to take your temperature (and not on your forehead or in your ear) and pet you in a very strange way.
It is no wonder that cats experience stress with veterinary visits. While we are not likely to condition cats to enjoy the vet visit, there are several things you can do to help your cat stay calmer before you arrive.
1. Cat carrier: Interior decorators will not likely suggest cat carriers as a room centerpiece; however, leaving your cat’s carrier out on a daily basis is an important tool in reducing vet visit stress. Pick a carrier that is large enough to allow your cat to turn around and relax. Encourage the cat to sleep, play and even eat in the carrier. This way, the carrier is not just associated with vet visits and a trigger for flight or fight. Literally.
2. Pheromones: Calming pheromones for cats can help mitigate a stress response. Spray Feliway in the cat’s carrier and in your car. You can also place a towel over the carrier to minimize stimulus. Your vet can prescribe calming nutraceuticals to help with anxiety. It is also important, as the owner, to stay calm. Your cat will “read” your emotions and react accordingly. We realize this is easier said than done! Sadly, we do not have calming pheromones for you.
3. Stability: Ensure that the cat carrier is securely placed in the car and is not tilted or easily jostled.
4. Transport: Be gentle and slow while transporting the carrier to the car. Leave yourself plenty of time to arrive at the veterinary office. This will minimize your stress and allow you to drive with minimal erratic stops and starts which contribute to your cat’s anxiety.
5. Music: Play calming music in the car. This can be classical music or pet-specific calming music like the “Through A Cat’s Ear” CDs.
6. Socialization: Consider taking your cat for quick social visit to the animal hospital. This is a visit for treats and socializing. Doing this can greatly reduce stress by breaking the association between the vet and needles, restraint, and temperature-taking. This is especially effective if you can start these visits with kittens.
7. Sedation: For cats that get particularly stressed and anxious during trips to the vet, do the above and talk to your veterinarian about pre-visit sedation options.
At Compassionate Care Animal Hospital, we take steps to reduce stress and anxiety as well. We minimize the use of the clinic waiting area by conducting check-ins in the exam room. We have designated species-specific exam rooms. We try to maintain a sense of calm by allowing more time for each appointment and using treats to initiate the visit. We also have chocolate treats and coffee for owners.
Most importantly, all the doctors and staff at CCAH are caring and dedicated to helping your cat get the care he or she needs and deserves in a safe way.