Ask Ms. Kitty: Don’t Run Away on Vet Day
By Sara Ferguson
Dear Ms. Kitty,
This year, I’m resolving to take my cats to their veterinarian for their yearly checkups, even though they get so scared it breaks my heart. Is there anything I can do to make it easier on them…and me?
You’re not alone being stressed on Vet Day! Research says that 38 percent of cat guardians get stressed just thinking about it and over 20 percent of vets don’t even examine their own cats yearly.
The biggest obstacle is getting your cat there. The second we get out the carrier—aka the Transportable Torture Device—our cats usually vanish. It’s no wonder we are stressed too by the time we actually get to the vet.
At Happy Cats Haven, we work with the most stressed cats, those who have lost everything they knew and loved. Here are 10 tips we use to make Vet Day as stress-free as possible.
CAT FRIENDLY VETS
The days of stressing cats by ignoring their terrified—but subtle—body language may be waning. Many practices are now certified in Fear Free Handling. Some vets are also certified to be Cat Friendly Practices.
These clinics have taken the time to learn how to minimize your cat’s stress. A cat who is less stressed will be easier to examine … and easier to treat.
If your vet has a busy, noisy, multi-animal practice, consider letting them know you have arrived and wait in the car for them to get you.
Get out your carrier as soon as you make the appointment, ideally weeks in advance. Put it in a corner of a room where you hang out with your cats. The goal is to make it just another piece of furniture.
CHECK YOUR CARRIER
The most heartbreaking stories are ones where the cat was put in the carrier only to have it break open when picked up, dumping the cat out to run away, terrified.
Check your carrier for missing pieces and make sure all fasteners are working properly. If anything is suspect, use a bungee or two to wrap around the carrier.
Cats in stress search out small, dark places to sooth themselves. Change the carrier from being a torture device to being a place your cat wants to be.
Take an old pillow case or piece of fabric and drape it over the carrier from side to side, covering the holes. Slit it the short way so you can reach the handle. Also place your cats’ favorite bedding in the carrier.
REWARD, REWARD, REWARD
Every day, place some of your cats’ favorite treats in the carrier to eat at their own pace. Soon your cats should be having a good experience there. They may even choose to go in the carrier on their own, which is exactly what you want!
TREATS BEFORE SURGERY
If you have to remove your cats’ food for surgery, try some fish flake treats. They appeal to most cats but will not compromise their food ban. Another option is to offer just the gravy from canned food, no more than 1/4 teaspoon.
LIE IN WAIT
The night before Vet Day, make sure your cats’ food runs out, especially if you free feed. If you schedule feed, feed them a little less than normal.
On Vet Day, get out your cats’ most favorite treats. Toss them into the very back of the carrier. If they are crunchy, try to hit the carrier wall so the cat hears them.
Stand nonchalantly by the carrier. The second your cat is mostly inside, purposefully and quickly shut the door, using the door to push the cat all the way inside. Do not shut the door on the cat’s tail! Quickly lock the door so the cat cannot escape.
If you can’t get your cats to go in the carrier on their own, do not chase them down. Get out their breakfast and take it into a bathroom. If they haven’t eaten since the night before, they should be interested.
Let them eat a little and then quietly bring in the carrier, keeping them in the room. Tip the carrier on end with the opening at the top.
Pick up your cat and place him or her tail down in the carrier. Research shows scruffing can be detrimental, but this is one case where a swift scruff to quickly put the cat in the carrier may help immobilize him or her with the least trauma.
KEEP IT LEVEL
Your carrier should be already covered. Either carry it from the bottom or keep it level when carrying by the handle. Swinging your cats around when you move them only scares them more.
SOOTHE THE RIDE
Play soft music in the car, like classical or light music. If the cat cries, speak occasionally in soft tones but try not to encourage meowing.
With a little planning, everyone can be less stressed on Vet Day: you, your cat and your vet included!
Sara Ferguson is the Director of Happy Cats Haven. Ask Ms Kitty is a free helpline offered by Happy Cats Haven and Colorado Cats Boarding, and sponsored by Maddie’s Fund. If you need help with your cat’s behavior, go to HappyCatsHaven.org.