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Tips for a Cat’s Fear-Free Vet Visit

Taking your cat to the vet can be one of the most daunting tasks of cat ownership. Whether your cat hides under the middle of the bed or turns into the Tasmanian Devil, it can become a very frustrating experience for both you and the cat. Then frustration becomes frenzy as the appointment time approaches, and it seems impossible to put your cat in the carrier and arrive safely (and calmly!) at the vet!

Believe me, vets understand. We’re cat owners, too! The good news is that there are ways to prepare your cat, and your cat may even end up (dare I say it?) LIKING the carrier!

The best way to get ready for a vet visit is to desensitize your cat to both the carrier and the car. Remember, you’re trying to convince a cat to calmly leave the comfort of her own home. So, how does a frenzied cat owner go about desensitizing a cat prior to the next veterinary appointment? Read on!

1. Desensitize Your Cat to the Carrier

  • First off, if you don’t have a carrier – GET ONE! This is the best way to safely transport your cat. It’s not worth your cat panicking, breaking free from your arms, and running away while being carried to or from the car. And a loose cat in the car while driving is a recipe for disaster.
  • We recommend a carrier that opens from the top. This way, you can spare your cat the scary experience of being pulled out or unceremoniously dumped onto the exam table.
  • Make the carrier a safe haven for your cat. Leave it out and open so your cat can become familiar with it, and she can investigate at her leisure. Place a favorite blanket, towel, or toy inside the carrier to make it cozier. You may also choose to feed your cat treats or entire meals in the carrier in order to associate it with something pleasant.

2. Desensitize Your Cat to the Car

  • Help familiarize your cat to the sounds and motion of the car by taking your cat for short trips. Start by just going around the block, and gradually increase the length of your trip each time.
  • Eventually, work your way up to taking your cat to the vet’s office without doing an actual exam. Ask your vet if you can bring your cat in monthly to be weighed in order to make the trip worthwhile. Then, once a month, your cat will have a positive experience at the vet without being “poked and prodded.”
  • Keep in mind, while desensitizing your cat to the car, DO NOT leave your cat in the car to run errands. You need to be present in order to ensure that the car ride is a positive experience for your cat. And, it goes without saying to never leave your pet in the car on hot and humid days or freezing cold days.
  • If your cat has motion sickness and vomits in the carrier or the car, discuss anti-nausea medications (like Cerenia) with your veterinarian. It’s hard to have a good time when you’re sick to your stomach!

In situations where you don’t have much time to prepare your cat or if the process isn’t going as smoothly as you’d like, there are a few other options:

  • Spray your cat’s carrier with the synthetic pheromone, Feliway. Allow at least 15 minutes for it to dry before putting your cat in the carrier.
  • If your cat is a foodie, use a favorite snack to attract her into the carrier.
  • If your cat is very stressed, discuss medication with your family veterinarian. Medicating a cat the evening before and the morning of an appointment with a prescription medication called Gabapentin can make the trip less stressful for everyone.
  • In an emergency situation, use the “burrito” trick. Snuggly wrap your cat in a blanket or towel with just their head out. This way they are unable to scratch or run away while you place them in their carrier and close the door.

Once you finally arrive at the veterinary clinic, if there isn’t a separate waiting area for cats, ask to be placed in an exam room right away. If you cannot get in a room immediately, do not leave the carrier on the floor where your cat could be confronted by other curious pets. If your cat is food-motivated, offer a few more favorite treats as a distraction while also providing a positive experience.

Bringing your furry companion to your veterinarian’s office can be stressful, but with a bit of preparation, we hope the experience gets easier for both you and your cat!

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