Here Kitty Kitty - How to get the Cat to the Vet
Many cat owners wince at the thought of bringing their cat to the veterinarian. Often we hear about how the client has to stuff the cat into the carrier, chase the cat around the house, and listen to howling all the way to the office. Some cats get so stressed; the owner is convinced that the trip to the vet will make the cat worse. So, how can a cat owner help their kitty be less agitated about travel to the clinic?
First, understand why the cat is hiding, howling and resisting the carrier. The carrier is associated with many unpleasant things. First of all, many people have the carrier up in a closet or in the garage so the cat has not rubbed on the carrier, or slept in the carrier to transfer the cat's scent on to it. So the cat thinks this is a foreign object - not part of the cat's territory. The cat needs to mark the carrier by facial rubbing to feel like it belongs to this cat. All the pushing and stuffing in the carrier is also upsetting to the cat. The veterinary office often causes stress and the carrier means vet. The cat continues to escalate in anxiety, fear and even aggression. The cat hides to avoid going in the carrier. Many cats can tell even before the carrier comes out, that something is up and will hide. There is hope for these cats.
Make the carrier a part of the family room furniture. This means leaving it out all the time with the door open. Put the carrier out in a place where the cat can regularly rub up against it which transfers this cat's scent onto the carrier. Put part of the day's food in the carrier. Eventually the cat will eat it and begin to make the association of food - carrier - good! Keep feeding the cat in the carrier to keep up the good association.
Use especially yummy food in the carrier such as canned food, or even a little tuna. Make the carrier great for them. A soft towel that stays in the carrier is also a good idea. Toss a yummy treat in the carrier when your cat wants to be left alone. This rewards them for seeking solitude in the carrier and again making that positive association.
If you need to get your cat to the veterinarian right now try using a different type of carrier. A pillow case makes a great carrier. You can also spray Feliway (CEVA Labs) on the pillow case before you put your cat in. Feliway helps the cat feel like the pillow case belongs to them, and will help calm the cat. Have the pillow case in your lap as you hold your cat. Then slip it over your cat's body head first. Knot or tie the top of the case closed and support the bottom of when holding your cat. Any other item that the cat is used to sleeping or laying in can also work. Two laundry baskets connected together could also work. The point is that not these known items are not a trigger for fear like the current carrier is. An owner can reward and counter condition the old carrier later. Think creatively for items that are safe for the cat that an owner can transport the cat in.
Another technique I have used at my clinic is sending home a small bandana with Feliway sprayed on it. We put the bandana in a zip loc bag and tell the client to put this on the pet at least 30 minutes before coming to the clinic. Many cats have been much less agitated for carrier travel and exams this way. This really demonstrates some of the benefits of Feliway, and you can sell a bottle to your client for future use.
Once the kitty is at your office there are many ways your staff can make the exam and clinic experience much less upsetting. Rewards such as cat treats, avoiding scruffing, and using distraction techniques will help this cat to be less agitated. Now there will be a better association with the carrier. You can go to the Bella Behavior website for more resources and information on making veterinary visits better for the staff, the pet and the owner.
- written by Dr. Sally J. Foote