Cat ownership has been steadily increasing over the past several years. Even though more people have cats as pets, over half of those cats do not receive annual veterinary care. One of the main reasons that cats are not visiting the veterinarian is due to cat car anxiety and the stress of the actual trip to the clinic.
How Do You Get An Anxious Cat to Go to the Vet?
Does this sound familiar? You pull the carrier out of the shed, garage or basement and then, you can’t find your cat. Once you do find the cat, there is then the fight to get the (most often) begrudging feline into the carrier. Often, by the time the cat reaches the vet office, he or she is in full-on fight or flight mode, making the actual examination an unpleasant experience for all individuals involved. How to get your cat into a carrier is the question of the hour and as you can imagine, it’s not an experience that most pet owners and their feline companions want to repeat. However, it is very important that cats have regular veterinary care. Thankfully, there are some things that cat owners and their veterinarians can do to help make vet visits more positive experiences for their feline friends.
How to Choose a Cat Carrier
The first and most important step is choosing an appropriate carrier for transporting your cat to the vet and making that carrier an integral part in your cat’s everyday environment. It is essential that a cat be properly contained in a carrier when visiting the vet. There are enumerable dangers to both humans and animals in having a cat running free in the car during the trip to the vet. The risk of a cat panicking and getting loose from the car or the veterinary professional trying to get them into the clinic without a carrier is much too great. There are many, many options available when it comes to cat carriers: hard sided, soft sided, backpack, bag style, etc.
When choosing a cat carrier, size does indeed matter. Trying to get a 10-pound cat into and out of a carrier made for a small 3-pound kitten is bound to make any cat cranky. If you have just adopted a kitten and are selecting an appropriate-sized carrier, keep in mind it needs to be big enough for your cat when full grown. Make sure there is enough room for a full-grown cat to stand up and easily turn around. There are many options for entrance and exits with carriers as well. Carriers with multiple ways to take a cat in and out are preferred. Some cats prefer to stay in the carrier, so having one that can be accessed by the veterinarian while the cat stays in all or a portion of the carrier can make a vet visit much less scary for the cat.
How to Get a Cat Into a Carrier
So now you’re probably wondering how to get an unwilling cat into a carrier? Once you have selected the appropriate carrier for your cat the next step is to make the pet carrier a comfortable part of the cat’s everyday environment. Cats in general do not like change, so being unceremoniously stuffed into a box that they only every see once in a blue moon can be very upsetting. But if the carrier is part of the normal environment and a cozy and pleasant habitat, a cat will much more amenable to traveling in it.
Whether you have just adopted a new kitten or cat, or have an established feline friend in your household, place the carrier in a quiet place out in the area where the cat spends a majority of their time. Place soft blankets or favorite bedding in the carrier and even add some toys. You can even feed the cat or give them yummy treats when they are in their carrier to positively reinforce that the carrier is a safe space.
How to Make Car Rides Less Stressful for Cats
Once the cat becomes comfortable with the carrier, you can slowly introduce them to riding in the carrier in the car. At first, just take them out to the car and place the cat carrier in the car and start the engine for just a few minutes to get the cat used to the sound of the engine. You might want to cover the carrier with a blanket to reduce the amount of external stimuli causing stress. It’s also good to give them a bit of a treat in order to positively reinforce that the carrier in the car. After several sessions like this, go on a very short drive, just around the block at first and repeat until the cat becomes comfortable with the sounds and movement of riding in the car. This will go a long way to making the cat’s trip to the vet much less scary and stressing.
How to Reduce Stress in Cats
Finally, if you follow all of the steps as outlined above and your cat is still very stressed about the trip to the vet, talk to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety supplements and cat calming medications that can be given an hour or so prior to the visit to the clinic to make the experience much less traumatic for your feline friend. Non-medicated supplements such as Zylkene, Anxitane and herbal supplements such as Rescue Remedy may help some cats overcome the stress and fear of going to the vet. Stronger calming meds for cats, such as gabapentin, trazadone, or fluoxetine can be given an hour or so before a vet visit to lessen the anxiety related with a visit to the veterinarian.
How Do I Make My Cat Not Scared of the Vet?
Visiting the veterinarian may not be a fun thing for a cat, and figuring out how to get a difficult cat into a carrier isn’t usually fun for you, but it is a very important part of keeping our feline friends healthy and enjoying life for a long time. Making some small, slow introductions to those things necessary for a trip to the vet can help make your feline friend comfortable and your veterinarian happy. If you have any other questions on how to take a cat to the vet or general cat health questions, call a Revival Pet Care Pro at 800.786.4751.
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Written by: Amy Hanson, DVM
Amy Hanson, DVM
Dr. Amy Hanson is an associate veterinarian at the Cat Clinic of Lawrence in Lawrence, Kansas. She is a 2010 graduate of Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Her special interests include felines, acupuncture and dentistry. Her hobbies include showing cats and she is a judge for the American Cat Fanciers Association (ACFA).