7 Tips for Stress Free Vet Visits for Your Cat (is it even possible?!)
Let me guess...taking your cat to the vet is incredibly stressful and a real source of anxiety for both you and your cat?
From getting them into the cage or carrier in the first place (which may involve you losing blood!), through to traveling in the car, to sitting in the waiting room. Every step ramps up stress levels an extra notch. By the time you’re called into the consulting room, your cat is super scared and a quivering wreck.
Well hopefully it’s not quite as bad as this but no matter how placid your puss, I’m sure they are not completely relaxed by the time your vet is saying hello.
Today I want to give you my 7 top tips for getting a scared cat to the vet and figuring out how to reduce your cats stress to make your life easier too (as well as mean your arms won’t get scratched to pieces in the process).
7 ways to reduce your cats stress during vet visits
Pick an appropriate carrier
Feed your cat in their carrier
Use Feliway pheromone spray
Get them used to car journeys
Be on time
Stay away from dogs
How to get a scared cat to the vet
1 - Choose a carrier that has solid walls so your cat feels secure
My very first tip is to choose a cage or cat carrier that has got solid sides (these basic ones on amazon are a good start). They might be vented but you should definitely avoid floppy fabric carriers (if nothing else they are a nightmare to clean if your cat has an accident!).
The idea here is that your cat can peer out, but they don't feel like they're being observed by whoever (and whatever) they happen to meet during their visit. They may also not be able to see some of the common stressors, such as dogs in the waiting room (which I’ll come onto later).
Now if you've got a cage with wire or clear sides, then you can just drape a towel or blanket over the top. this will also help your cat feel more safe, more secure and less exposed. If it is a blanket they lie on at home it will also smell familiar and be an additional source of comfort.
2 - Feed your cat in their carrier
It’s all well and good reducing stress once your cat is in their carrier, but just how do you get them inside in the first place? If you are having to do battle to even get your cat into their carrier then you’ve already lost when it comes to making a vet visit stress free! Alternatively, you might just be thinking about getting the carrier out and your cat will do a runner and won’t be seen for days.
You need to make your cat actually want to get into their carrier, and what better way than making it the place where they eat every meal. It will actually become their safe where they go to get a reward. They’ll be more than happy to get into the carrier. Feeding your cat in their carrier is also a top stress reduction tip in my article all about how to feed multiple cats!
By feeding your cat in their carrier you will make it just part of the furniture, rather than a torture box only brought out when serious punishment is on the agenda!
This tip again involves choosing the right carrier. Ideally, it needs to have a door at the front rather than be top opening. You can even close the door while your cat is eating to make them even more comfortable.
Use Feliway pheromone spray
My third strategy to reduce the stress of vet visits is to use a pheromone spray. So you might have already read my other article about how to reduce stress in cats where I talk about how useful Feliway can be. This is a synthetic version of the pheromone that is released when your cat rubs their cheek against an object. It's a way of marking their home territory, their safe space.
While it also comes in a room diffuser (which is great for stressed cats in the home), there is also a small spray bottle form. A few pumps sprayed onto the bedding in their carrier will just help your stressed cat settle that little bit better. Combine this with a blanket or bed that smells of home and you’ll be onto a winning formula.
Get your cat used to the car
If your cat only travels in the car once a year, and it’s always to a less than relaxing destination then it’s no wonder a car trip sends them into a panic.
Getting your cat used to traveling in the car involves taking them on lots of very short journeys while you're giving them treats. It might even mean at first you're just putting them in their carrier, placing them in the car and then taking them out again. This graduates to turning the engine on, and then you gradually increased the length of trip that you're taking your cat on.
Each time they get something tasty as a reward and you use Feliway to set them up for success. Doing it as a kitten will make the whole process even easier.
A couple of bonus points are worth mentioning here:
Secure your cats’ carrier with a seatbelt so it won’t slide around in the car
Drive smoothly, avoiding heavy braking and rapid acceleration.
Sure this process takes a bit of time and effort but your cat’s worth it...aren’t they?!
Be on time
My fifth step to reduce the stress of a vet visit for your cat is to be on time for your appointment. Now you might think this is obvious, but as well as not arriving late I also mean don’t arrive 20 minutes early.
The last thing your cat would choose to do would be to sit in the waiting room for a long period of time getting more anxious and scared.
Of course being late should be avoided too as the end result could be the same. You miss your appointment and you have to wait to be slotted in (if that’s even possible depending on what kind of day your vet’s having).
If you're worried about your vet being on time (and unfortunately we sometimes don't run on time, especially if there is an emergency to deal with), you can always call ahead. Double check your appointment time, ask if the vet is running to schedule and adjust your plans accordingly.
Keep your cat away from dogs
Waiting for as short a time as possible is all well and good, but if your cat finds themselves face to face with a dog sniffing the front of their cage (and dog owners are fantastic at letting their dogs do this!) then all your hard work goes out the window!
While you're waiting, you can keep your cat on your lap or raise them off the ground onto the chair next to you. Some veterinary clinics will even have raised platforms to put your cat on, well out of the way of inquisitive dogs. At the same time, choose to sit the other end of the waiting room to any dogs present.
Taking things a cat-friendly step further, a clinic may have a cat-only section to wait in, may run cat-only time slots or may even be a 100% cat-only clinic (no dogs allowed). Even just booking your cat in for the first appointment of a consulting session could mean that you beat the crowds and so beat the stress! Your vet will also more likely be running on time so it’s a win-win situation all round.
Medicate really scared or aggressive cats
My final tip to reducing the stress of your cat visiting the veterinarian is to medicate them. For those that are still just a little anxious, despite all of the above tips being put in place, a herbal supplement like rescue remedy or Zylkene will likely be enough to help settle their nerves.
For those cats that are super scared or even aggressive then something more reliable will be needed. This is clearly something to talk to your vet about as drug preferences and familiarity varies greatly. It is, in fact, one area (of many) where recommendations change regularly as we understand our feline patients more and drug availability changes as well.
A drug that many people are currently using is Gabapentin. This is an anti-seizure drug that also has pain killing properties but it has also come to be realized that it can really help calm scared and aggressive cats while at the same time being very safe.
There are other options though, and as I say you need to have a chat with your vet about these to find the one most suitable for your cat.
So those are my seven main strategies and tips for reducing stress in cats when it comes to visiting your veterinarian. As well as other articles all about reducing stress in cats I have also produced a free guide that runs you through the signs of stress (which cats hide so well) and just how to go about making sure your cat is relaxed and happy.
What tips do you have for getting your cat to the vet? Do you ambush them while they’re asleep or leave them shut in a small room? How do they cope with going in the car? I’d love to hear your experiences and how you get on after trying these suggestions.
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