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How to make the vet less stressful for your cat

Get some top tips on reducing stress for you and your cat during vet trips, from behavioural advisor, Anna Jönsson Bergstedt.
How to make the vet less stressful for your cat

A visit to the vet can be stressful for you and your cat. Cats have a strong sense of territory and prefer not to leave it. Unfortunately, when you take your cat with you a transport cage, they usually prepare for the worst because such a trip rarely results in, or is associated with, anything positive.

Here are some tips on how you can make your next vet visit more pleasant for both you and your cat.

Accustom the cat to handling

It's a good idea to start getting your cat accustomed to being handled as early as possible in life. As handling then feels familiar, it can be less stressful when a vet does it.

Get your cat used to you looking in their mouth and ears, and touching its paws and the rest of its body. Give your cat some treats while handling and it will soon get used to being examined and associate it with something positive.

How to examine your cat

How to get your cat to like the carrier

Letting your cat get used to the carrier makes the journey more pleasant for them. If they feel safe during the journey, they'll feel less vulnerable at the clinic.

It is important to have a transport cage of good quality, preferably a model where the upper part of the cage can be lifted off. This way, your cat can remain in the lower part of the safe cage during parts of the examination.

Due to cat's sensitivity to smells, it's a good idea to get your own carrier, rather than to borrow one. Having your own also means you can spend time building positive feelings towards it with good experiences and familiar smells. This creates more of a sense of security.

Leave your carrier in view, rather than in storage. Line it with a cosy blanket and place treats around, and inside it. You can also spend some time playing with your cat in and around the carrier. This way they will hopefully get curious and enter the carrier of their own accord to investigate. If they do this, you could close the door and try walking around it whilst giving them treats. Take your time to keep experiences positive.

Soothing fragrances and supplements

Your carrier will now smell familiar to your cat and be part if their territory. You can also use other scents to signal security to your cat. FeliWay is a spray that contains safety-creating pheromones. It releases the same scent that your cat emits when they rub against furniture and other things in the home to secure their home environment.

If you spray the carrier with Feliway half an hour before the cat is to be transported, you can make it feel extra secure. The scent remains for around 2 hours so it can also help to give your cat a little extra security at the clinic. Feliway will only have this safety-creating effect if the cat is already used to its transport cage.

A couple of hours before you go to the vet, you can also give your cat nutritional supplements such as Zylkène, Aptus Relax or Anxitane, which can have a calming effect and which are no problem to combine with Feliway.

In the waiting room

If it is very noisy in the waiting room, you can let your cat wait in its carrier in the car until it is time for your appointment.

If you choose to sit in the waiting room, it is good if your cat can sit a little higher, for example on a chair or designated shelf. This helps them regulate their stress, and they don't feel as exposed if they have a little overview. You could also cover the carrier with a brought blanket or borrow a designated blanket at the clinic.

Do not allow dogs to smell or stare at your cat. Even if your cat is used to dogs, it is intrusive and stressful for them to sit in a cage with no escape from a strange dog. Your cat may not find petting or looking at it soothing from the carrier, however some gentle talking could have a calming effect.

In the examination room

When you enter the examination room, open the carrier. Your cat can then walk around and examine the room if it so chooses. They may just want to stay in the carrier until it's time for their examination.

Don't force or pull your cat out. When it's time for their examination, the upper part of the carrier can be removed and your cat can be examined in there, possibly with a blanket over it as extra protection.

If you are asked to help and hold your cat, try to hold them as loosely as possible. Cats can get stressed by being held. Turn your cat towards you as much as possible and speak calmly to them. Avoid "schh sounds" as it can sound like a hissing cat.

Make sure you tell the staff if you feel stressed or find something uncomfortable. It might be better to have someone else hold your cat for a while, to expose them to as little external stress as possible.

About the Author

Anna Jönsson Bergstedt is a registered veterinary nurse and certified cat nurse with special skills and certification in cat behaviour.

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