A Less Stressful Vet Visit for Kitty
Ever wonder how your cat just knows to hide because you're about to head out to the veterinarian? It's more than mere observation of our behavior patterns, or the sudden appearance of their carrier in the house. Our cats are in tune with our own emotions, so if we're feeling any apprehension, dread, or fear at the thought of taking them to the vet, they're going to pick up on that. They'll be in a hidey-hole faster than we can dig the carrier out of its storage closet.
But vet visits don't have to be this way! We can take steps to make those visits less stressful, both for our cats and ourselves. If you're building a relationship of love and trust between yourself and your cat, it will come in very handy at times like visits to the vet.
Before Appointment Day: Choosing a Veterinarian
If you've recently relocated, try to find a nearby veterinarian who specializes in cats. If there's not one of those available, check for one that has a separate entrance for cats. Ask friends or co-workers for recommendations. Most veterinarians have a website these days, which makes this research much easier than it used to be. If you search on a term like "cat veterinarian" and your city, it should yield the most nearby options.
A clinic's website will tell you a lot about them. Develop a checklist of the factors important to you and use it to compare veterinary clinics. Do they automatically vaccinate every year, or do they to a titer test first to see which vaccines your cat actually needs? Are they a holistic veterinary clinic that embraces alternative remedies, or solely traditional allopathic medicine?
Having a nearby vet is good, as it minimizes the time your cats will have to ride in the car. While some cats enjoy a car ride, many do not. Something to do with motion not caused by themselves; cats are control freaks like that. But don't make proximity your main factor in choosing a vet. A longer drive can be justified if the level of care is worth it.
Choosing a clinic with multiple veterinarians on staff means that if the main vet is unavailable when your cat has an urgent need, someone will be there as backup. Find out what regular office hours they keep, and if they're available on call after hours, or if there's a nearby veterinary emergency clinic with whom they work. Do they have someone who monitors animals staying in the hospital overnight? Are their vet techs licensed or certified?
If they'll tell you, find out about their rates and ask if they offer any discounts for multiple-cat households, senior citizens, or military/veterans. Will they offer a payment plan for expensive procedures? What pet insurance plans do they accept?
Understand what philosophy of treatment you're seeking for your cats before you search. You can search on sites such as the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) for accredited members practicing traditional (allopathic, or conventional) veterinary medicine. The American Association of Feline Practitioners will direct you to clinics that have sought accreditation as a Cat-Friendly Practice.
The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association will direct you to holistic vets. If you prefer a homeopathic approach, the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy can direct you. If you're looking for even more alternative treatments, try the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture or the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association.
Outside the U.S., look for affiliation with the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM), which also offers accreditation as a Cat Friendly Clinic. ISFM also offers an Academy for continuing education and an ISFM Certificate or Diploma in Feline Nursing.
If you can, visit the office in person before booking an appointment. If you can, do this at one of their off-peak times, not first thing in the morning or late in the day, when a lot of people are dropping off and picking up their pets. Notice if parking is convenient and safe. Will it be fairly easy to unload your cat and get into the clinic from the parking lot?
Ask if you can tour their facilities. Make sure everything looks clean and well maintained. Notice the sounds and smells. Look at the room where the cages are: if it's not a cat-only practice, are cats and dogs kept in separate rooms? Listening to dogs bark can be horribly stressful for cats, especially when they're not feeling well.
Does the clinic have a testing laboratory on site, or do they send off blood and urine work to another lab? What other equipment for diagnosis and monitoring do they have on site? These typically include an X-ray machine, ultrasound equipment, and EKG.
Chat with the doctor and staff who will be taking care of your kitty. Are you comfortable with them? Would your cat be? Are they pleasant to deal with?
Doing your homework before choosing a veterinarian can prevent unhappy surprises later on down the road. But even if you've already happily established a relationship with a veterinary practice, there are additional steps you can take in advance of your visit to make visits less stressful for your cats.
Before Appointment Day: Preparing Your Cat
Your cats should always be contained within a carrier when you take them to the vet. This keeps them safe from fearful escape or attack by canine patients, and protects them securely while in your car. But if the only time your cat sees a carrier is when it's time to go be poked and prodded by strangers at the vet, naturally it's going to have some negative associations.
When selecting the right carrier for your cat, make it one that can be secured inside the car. Then, in the event of an accident, your kitty won't become a missile being hurled through your windshield. Soft-sided carriers are often a good option, as most will fold flat for storage when not in use, and they're a softer, more home-like environment for your cat. Many come with a removable fleece liner for additional comfort. Some have a top opening that will make it easier for a vet to reach into it to examine the cat without having to remove kitty from the carrier. You may opt for one with wheels (or even a stroller) if you'll be transporting large or multiple cats in it. You won't need a food and water dish or a litter box inside the carrier for a short trip to the vet, so don't worry about those features. Old Maid Cat Lady has several excellent options in our Travel Time section.
Long before kitty's vet appointment, set up the carrier in a quiet place at home and make it an inviting environment. A favorite toy and a soft blankie accompanied by a new space to explore with an open door on the front will prove irresistible. Once your cat is freely going into the carrier to spend time, occasionally close the door on it and carry it around the house, calmly talking to the cat while you do. This will get kitty used to the sensation of being moved around while in the carrier.
If your cat is afraid of anything like the vacuum cleaner or house guests, help kitty see the carrier as a "safe place" of retreat during these times. Locating it in a quiet, out-of-the-traffic-flow spot is important here. When the time comes to load up for the vet appointment, you may just find your kitty already snoozing comfortably inside!
Our cats also listen to us when we talk to them. That talk doesn't even have to be out loud. Explain to your cats that they will soon be meeting a new person who cares about them and wants to help them feel good. Describe the vet's office, its sights, sounds, and smells. Imagine it in your mind as you talk to them about it. Tell kitty how these are not things to fear, but are an exciting new adventure. Do this repeatedly for a few weeks leading up to their first wellness visit. It may sound crazy, but I have used this technique successfully to prepare my cats for fireworks and a Blue Angels show in which the jets were flying right over our house. Neither one of those frightened them, and in fact they always enjoy them both!
If possible, take your cat for some rides in the car inside the carrier at some other time than when going to the vet. Start out with a short trip around the block. Play some soothing music at a low volume and talk to your cat for reassurance. Perhaps work up to going through the bank drive-through, or to a pet store where pets are welcome. It's good for your cat to get accustomed to seeing people other than you, and to understand that they're not all a threat.
On one of these trips, you may even want to visit the vet clinic with your cat to greet the staff when there's no appointment scheduled. Just as with your initial visit for a tour, try to do this during one of their off-peak times of day to minimize stress. Obviously you won't want to leave your cat parked in the car somewhere, but get kitty used to the idea that a ride in the car is not necessarily a bad thing.
These trial runs will also be a chance for you to see how your cat handles riding in the car. I've had cats who yowled the whole time, others who seemed to enjoy looking out the window at the scenery, others who wanted to be as close to me as possible, and still others who cowered in fear as low as they could get inside the back seat. Knowing in advance how your cat will react to the car ride can help you understand how to provide comfort and reassurance on vet appointment day.
You can also prepare your cat for the exam itself when doing your at-home health examinations. These will get kitty accustomed to being held and touched all over, as well as having the paws and mouth area handled.
Comforting Kitty On Appointment Day
When making your cat's checkup appointment, try to schedule it late enough in the morning so that kitty has had time to have breakfast and use the litter box ahead of time. If you need to deliver a stool sample to avoid one being taken at the vet, this will also give you a chance to collect it from the box in a baggie. (I know; ew!) We don't all have the luxury of a day off for a vet appointment, however, so you may need to take the cat in on your way to work.
It may help you to prepare anything you're taking with you the night before. If you have a list with questions for your vet, put that and everything else (other than the cat in the carrier) you'll be taking with you in the car or by your front door so you don't have to rush around in a hurry looking for it on appointment day. It wouldn't be a bad idea to also throw a few paper towels into the car in case of any potty accidents while in transit.
Whatever time the appointment, set your own mind in a calm, unhurried state. Think positive thoughts. Play or imagine some calming music; if you always have a tune running through your head, make a conscious decision to play a pleasant one. If your cat responds well to calming remedies, use one.
If your cat is still frightened despite all your conditioning and reassurance, take a towel with you (Douglas Adams fans will be smiling here) so you can cover the carrier. Some cats prefer to hide rather than to see scary surroundings. If kitty likes treats and is not under orders to fast before surgery, by all means bring some of those along. If your cat has carried any toys into the carrier, leave those in place for reassurance.
Talk to your cat, as you have been doing during your car rides, on the way to the vet's office. Play the same calming music as before and explain to kitty approximately what will happen during the appointment so it's not a complete surprise. Picture the vet's and staff's faces and the activities that will happen during the appointment. Imagine the sensations of the physical exam and let kitty know that even if not all things will be pleasant, the people there care and are doing this to make your kitty feel better.
When you arrive at the vet's office, keep your cat in the carrier and try to avoid scary things like big or barky dogs. Some cats may be comforted if you place your hand where they can smell it, or even give them a skritch on the chin through the door. Your cat may want to rub its face on your hand for reassurance. But know your cat: if your kitty is stressed and in attack mode, don't risk injury by poking a finger into the carrier. Keep your silent calming talk going on, with pleasant, relaxing images and music in your mind.
Some cats become hissy, and even violent, when frightened. This is what you've tried to avoid by all your prep work. If your kitty is still acting scared despite all your efforts, that's okay. Keep up the calm talk and reassurance. Tell them you know this is scary for them, but that everything is going to be okay.
During the Appointment
If at all possible, remain with your cat during the vet appointment. You may not have this option, but dropping kitty off in a strange, noisy place filled with unfamiliar smells and then leaving is not reassuring. Kitty will be wondering if you're ever coming back, and may be stressed even if having already met the vet's staff.
Usually, the staff will usher you into an exam room a few minutes before the doctor comes in. This gives you time to get your cat comfortable with the room. Once the exam room door is closed, open the door of the carrier and let your cat emerge at will. Some will opt to stay put, or even burrow under the liner or towel. Others will want to explore. It's a good time to play with your cat with a toy, and to keep up the reassuring talk. These are good distractions from any fear kitty may be feeling. Keep a close watch on the cat, as the door could open at any time, and you don't want kitty to make a break for it! Be ready to grab the cat quickly when the door opens.
If you're familiar with the Tellington TTouch method of comforting your cat, use those gentle, circular motions to comfort your cat while waiting for the doctor. Even if you've never been trained in the method, any type of touching that comforts your cat is useful. If your cat is one who prefers not to be touched when under stress, continue your calm talking, whether aloud or mentally. Remember, cats will pick up on your own emotions, but they will also sense those of other animals and people in the clinic. Not everybody will have been as prepared as you. Pay attention to kitty's body language. You know your cat well enough to recognize what's needed.
When the vet arrives in the examining room, remain in the room with your cat, holding the kitty for any vaccinations if possible. If you have a hissy or violent kitty, this may also be good protection for your veterinarian!
Sometimes one of the technicians will appear first, and carry your cat out to the scales for weighing, or to perform some other preliminary work. The staff or vet may also carry your cat to another room for a blood draw or extracting a urine or fecal sample. You can still keep up your calming mental talk with the cat during this time, reassuring kitty that even though this may not feel good for a moment, it'll soon be over.
Once back in the carrier, your cat may be slightly agitated, but most just want to hide and get back home. It can't hurt to continue reassuring your cat and telling kitty how brave and good he or she has been and how proud you are.
After the Appointment
The drive home should be similar to the drive to the vet's office: soothing music playing, you talking to kitty about how you'll soon be back home.
Your cat may not feel terribly social, especially if vaccinations have just been administered. Kitty may make a dash for a favorite hidey-hole, or may choose to remain in the carrier. Place that back in its safe spot and open the door so your cat can come out at leisure.
If you have more than one cat and only one has gone to the vet, the others in the house may hiss or growl at the returning cat. Smells from the vet's office will be on kitty, and those are unfamiliar so they may view him/her as an intruder instead of a family member. If this happens, try to keep them in different rooms for a short time until the vetted cat can groom and relax a little. You may want to leave the carrier latched with kitty inside while the others sniff it down. Soon they'll all be friends again. A calming remedy in the room may again prove helpful.
Rewarding your cat with a nice treat or a dish of a favorite food once returning home can help associate a vet visit with a pleasant experience. If the cat tries to sulk for too long, try dangling a favorite toy to engage kitty in some playtime. If that doesn't work, just give your cat a little time. They'll all forgive us eventually.
Don't feel like bothering with all of this? Many communities have a mobile veterinarian who can come to your house; check online to see if yours is one.
Yes, it's a lot of work to make sure that your cats are properly vetted, but catching many health problems early will save you a lot of money in the long run and could even extend your cat's life. Hopefully these tips have helped you overcome some of the anxiety about it!