Woman vet with a calm gray and white tabby cat during a stress-free vet visit

Making Vet Visits Stress-Free for You and Your Cat

Most cat owners are familiar with ‘The Struggle’. That is, the almighty wrestling match that precedes getting a cat into a carrier to get them safely to the vet. And then there’s the examination once you’re there, where your normally docile kitty turns into a little spitfire or a terrified plank! I’ve come up with some ways for you to help make the whole process a lot easier for both of you, and maybe even a little fun!

Understanding the Stress

Young scared tabby cat highlighting the stress of vet visits, illustrating the need for better preparation

From start to finish, vet visits are usually an unpleasant experience for cats. First, they’re shoved into an unfamiliar, hard plastic cage and put in a noisy, bumpy car whose movement can make them feel sick. Then they’re taken, scared, to a room with other stressed animals who may be eyeballing them or slathering in their direction. Finally they’re poked and prodded on a cold, hard table by someone they don’t know. Everything smells strange and they can’t follow their natural instinct to escape. And all of this usually takes place when they’re already feeling pretty lousy. It’s no wonder they’re not huge fans!

Pre-Visit Preparation

Let's start by tackling the first hurdle: the dreaded carrier. This is an all-important piece of equipment, as it’s the safest way to transport your cat to and from the vet. It can have negative associations for your kitty though, if a vet visit is the only time the carrier makes an appearance. Having it become part of the furniture of the house will mean it becomes familiar instead of a red flag. Keep it in a prominent place in the house near where you and the cat hang out. You could play with your cat around the carrier, turn it into their dining room or cat bed, or just use it as the place you give treats. This will all help your cat to associate the carrier with good things so they’ll get in it quite happily when it’s time for the vet.

Travel Tips

Bengal cat resting in a carrier bag as part of preparation for a stress-free vet visit

Unlike dogs, cats don’t often go in the car for any reason other than heading to the vet. You can change this and the general scariness of the car by giving them practice. Do all this only once they’ve gotten used to the carrier from the step above. Put a worn piece of your clothing, or a familiar towel in the carrier before the journey, and once they’re inside, cover it with another. Secure the carrier on the floor behind one of the front seats, or on the seat with a seatbelt. Keep talking to your cat the whole time in a calm voice. You can warm them up with a few false starts where the car is turned on but not driven, then you both go back inside for treats and chill-out time. Then work your way up to short trips up and down the driveway, or around the block before heading home again. This way, the car isn’t automatically a stressful place to be, and while not many cats will love these journeys, they can learn to tolerate them much better.

At the Vet's Office

Next, make sure your vet’s office is cat-friendly. There are some clinics with separate dog-free waiting rooms and areas with less noise. Ask when their quietest periods are, and make your appointment during that time. In any case, keep the carrier opening pointed at a wall or back of a chair while waiting, so no eye contact can be made with other animals. If possible, take your cat straight from the car to the exam room. You can go in and let them know you’ve arrived, then wait in the car until it’s your time.  And throughout all of this, be calm and talk in a soft voice.  Making sure you’ve got all relevant medical information and plenty of time will make it all less stressful for you too!

During the Examination

Woman vet giving a treat to a ginger cat during a stress-free examination

Take a minute to talk to the vet when you get into the room so your cat can acclimatize slightly before the exam. And keep your hands close to the carrier so kitty can smell you easily. When it’s time for the physical exam, having a top-opening carrier with a detachable top will mean the cat can be more easily brought in and out. Ask your vet if you can put down a familiar smelling towel or blanket first, to make the table a bit warmer and softer. If appropriate, see if they could be partially examined while still inside the familiar bottom section of the carrier, once the top is removed. Also, the cat handling techniques of the vet and assistants should be only as firm as your cat is giving them cause to be. Some cats do require firm restraint, while some are better with a lighter touch.

Bonus Tips for Success

  • Try to find a vet that is Fear Free Certified. Veterinarians and staff at Fear Free clinics work with pet owners to take the stress out of medical care — for pets and people.
  • Cats should be seeing the vet annually, even in good health. Making sure you stick to this program will mean the vet isn’t only an extra indignity to be suffered when they’re already sick or injured. Relaxed regular check-ups will mean the vet can become familiar and less scary.
  • If your vet is okay with it, take your cat in on one of those practice drives at a time when the clinic will be extra quiet. Let your cat sniff around a bit and give them a treat or two, before taking them home again. The smells of the office and exam rooms will then be known to them, even if the vet changes between visits.
  • You can enlist the help of soothing herbs and pheromone sprays to help settle your kitty’s nerves pre-visit and have them feeling more at ease.
  • One final piece of advice is to improve their touch tolerance. Get them used to having their paws, ears, and tails handled by you and people they know and like. This will make the physical exam section a lot easier for the vet and for your cat.

These measures are all simple and require no fancy equipment or training. Just your understanding and patience are required. Taking care of your cat’s physical health is important, as we all know. And helping vet visits be happier, more relaxed events will go a long way to ensuring your cat’s mental health is also given the importance it deserves.

Other Articles You May Be Interested In…

For additional information on using herbal remedies to calm your cat before vet visits, explore our guide on Effective Natural Remedies to Help Heal Your Cat.

For insights and ideas about how you can help reduce stress for your cat, check out this article, 8 Ways Stress Affects Your Cat's Health and How You Can Help.

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