I hear fairly regularly that owners are reluctant to bring their cats to the vet because they get so stressed with the whole experience that it doesn’t seem worth it. Here might be a few useful ideas to help your kittens and cats feel more comfortable when they travel.
Hopefully, routine vet visits may become less stressful, or at the very least, when they really need to come in for a checkup, it can be as smooth as possible.
Selecting a good carrier: Pick a carrier which is neither too big nor too small. They should have enough room to lie down, turn around and sit up, but they like to feel secure in spaces and in a huge, roomy carrier, they’ll probably hide at the back. It can have either hard or soft sides, but it should be easy for you to pick up and hold up at chest height. Ideally, to minimize stress at the clinic, the top should be easily removable, or there should be a panel at the top that can unzip to allow easy access. This way, we don’t have to tip and shake the poor, frightened cat out.
Acclimatization: Ideally, leave the carrier out at all times so that your cat gets used to it. Digging an old carrier out of the basement which your cat hasn’t seen in years and vaguely remembers that it was scary last time will not bode well. Start by taking the door off if it’s a hard-sided carrier and turning it into a comfortable hiding box. Add some cozy blankets to the carrier, leave it out so that your cat might start to use it as a sleeping spot. Throw some treats in there at the beginning to encourage them to explore and check it out. Think about using a pheromone spray on the blankets, which is meant to signal to your cat that this is a safe space. These sprays can be used again within the carrier prior to travel!
Getting ready for the trip: If it isn’t already out, bring the carrier out of hiding a few days beforehand and set it up as above: familiar blankets or a sweater, pheromone spray, treats and leave it out for them to explore. When it’s time to go, you may only get one shot at this, so make the first attempt count! Be calm and confident. And having a second pair of hands is very helpful. Sometimes it’s easier to maneuver them into the carrier if they can’t see what you’re doing, so covering their eyes or going in tail-first might help! If you’ve done your preparation beforehand, it’s not unheard of for cats to just walk right in, I promise you it can be done.
Travelling: Placing a towel over the carrier will help to reduce stressful stimuli. Find a spot in the car where the carrier can be secure or wedged in to minimize movement during the trip. When carrying the cat carrier, try to hold it at about chest height if you can manage it. Cats like to be up high where they can look down on what’s happening and feel more secure. When you arrive at the vet’s office, there may be silly dogs in the waiting room at just the perfect height to stare your cat in the eyes if you’re holding the carrier in your hand down by your knees, and that is not the welcome we’d like them to receive.
After the visit: After a routine visit, your feline may bound out of the carrier happy to be home, and you may not need to spend another minute thinking about it. If your cat has been hospitalized, medicated or had diagnostics performed, then he/she might need some time to get used to being home again. If they’ve been sedated, have a warm bed in a confined room ready for them to recuperate and where you can keep an eye on them. If you have other cats, they might recognize the strange smells from the clinic and so even re-introducing them might need to wait a bit. Rub them all down with the same blanket. If food is not going to cause any competition, then feeding them together is a good way to reintroduce routines.
Pre-medication: Sometimes, pre-medicating is better than waiting for a fear-response to develop and then trying to counteract it after the fact. We often dispense oral tablets, which can be given to your cat 1-2 hours prior to the vet visit and these cause some light sedation. These are generally safe and can help to prevent the anxious wind-up that comes with a visit to the vet. If it means you and your cat will have a less stressful experience, your cat will be more
relaxed when he/she returns home, and you won’t have to fight the next time to get them to the vet, then it may be worth it to do this before your cat has several negative experiences.
Written by Dr. Mica Das Gupta