We animal people (me included) like to make our pets happy and do things that they enjoy. We all know that if our cat hates the trip to the vet, we are less likely to prioritize it. When clients can tell us, “He LOVES to come here!” these are the pets that we can keep the healthiest. I have cat patients that purr and rub on me. They know me and don’t fear me. I even wrote chapters in my book, Tennessee Tails: Pets and Their People about my relationship with a few of my most memorable feline friends.
But some of my cat patients are already so stressed by being put into a crate and driven in a car that I do not have a chance to win them over. The cats that become aggressive or howl all the way to visit me are the ones that we see the least. The vet visit becomes a specter that the client dreads.
And let’s face it, when we do finally see them, it is more likely to be when they are very sick, so our chances for an ideal outcome are lessened dramatically. So what can YOU do to help?
1. Teach your cat to feel safe in the carrier.
If your cat is like most cats, only bringing out the crate when you are about to go to the vet is the worst thing you can do. Place the carrier in plain sight weeks ahead and at random intervals. Make sure it is comfortable and free from scary odors. For example, don’t loan it to your neighbor to catch a wild raccoon and then use it to take Fluffy to the vet. Leave it accessible and open for the cat, maybe in a favorite sunbeam with kitty treats hidden in the blankets inside. There are products that you get from your veterinarian to make the carrier a less fearful place. Since animals are so tuned into scent, they can smell things that we cannot imagine. Chemistry plays an important and often unidentified role for all of us, but animals specifically with their acute sense of smell are sometimes victims of chemistry. We can influence this invisible force with things like pheromone sprays. Make the carrier a safe and happy place. I trained my first cat, Merlin (also in Tennessee Tails) to be so comfortable in his crate that he treated it like a den and he would often choose to sleep there of his own accord.
2. Make sure the car ride is a mundane experience.
Once you have established the carrier as a safe zone, load your cat in the carrier and take trips only around the block to decrease anxiety. Take him/her with you to other places so that the car is a routine part of daily life. Create an association between travel and the grounds of the vet hospital with treats and praise. Try not to reward fearful behavior. For example, if your cat is hiding and cowering and you talk gently and cajole him, you might be telling him that you are pleased with his fearful behavior. Instead, watch him carefully, when his ears come up or his posture relaxes then it is a great time to tell him what a good cat he is and head home. Make travel and transit a part of his regular routine, until he is sure there is nothing to fear and he is secure that he will survive. Your goal here is to convince your cat that the effort it takes to yowl and stress is wasted because the car is not a real threat.
3. Bring your cat to the vet on an empty stomach. This suggestion is twofold. Your cat will be less likely to experience nausea and motion sickness on an empty stomach during travel and he/she will be hungry when we offer our treat/bribes! I always carry treats in my pocket and there are treat containers on every counter at Applebrook Animal Hospital. Many of my patients like the treats we have and will come to me expectantly. If you can stop by for a treat any time you have your pet with you, it is a great idea because we like to see them at a time when all we have to do is visit.
4. Bring a stool sample from home. Your cat makes a stool sample every day and if you can bring a fresh sample along with you to see us, it will save your pet the dreaded “fecal loop”. The fecal loop is the instrument we have to use to obtain a sample directly from your pet’s colon. Animals understandably resent this intrusion and it is sometimes uncomfortable for them. Fecal exams are a necessary and important part of our diagnostic panel, even if your cat is exclusively indoors so make her visit easier by bringing a sample along!
5. If you know that your cat has anxiety about the visit, let your vet know.
We can prescribe safe and effective anxiolytics to help your cat learn that she is safe when traveling and to help with fear-free training. As long as she is current on her annual examination and routine screening, your vet should be able to find a medication that can make the desensitization to the crate and to travel much easier and faster for your cat.
These techniques do take some time, but the time is investment in your cat’s long term health and happiness…and yours. We are all here because we love animals and we love for them to love us too!
About The Vet: Dr. Kathryn Primm is a practicing small animal veterinarian and blogger. She has consulted on articles for national magazines, done numerous radio interviews and appeared on local television. She has contributed to an article for Woman’s Day in Feb 2014 and an upcoming piece for Prevention magazine, slated to appear in April 2015.
She has a social media presence on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ and enjoys interaction with others about her passions, animals and communication. She is a regular contributor to Boomeon, the online community which can be found at www.boomeon.com . She has also written a book, Tennessee Tails:Pets and Their People. The book received recognition as Runner Up in the Memoirs category at a national book festival. You can read more about Dr. Primm and how to get the best value for your pet care dollar at her website, www.drprimm.com.