As I scroll through my morning schedule to get acquainted with the upcoming day, I notice an appointment marked as cancelled. Being a curious person, I open the appointment to see why Mrs. Jones will not be in with Fluffy this morning. The note was simple yet explained the problem clear as day. Mrs. Jones was “unable to catch Fluffy”.
This is an all too common problem pet owner’s face when trying to convince their four-legged family member that a trip to the vet is for their own good. It can be a stressful experience for both pet and owner. I speak from personal experience. It has become a well orchestrated event in our house, but it didn’t start out that way. I remember the days of moving furniture and chasing our cats into a room and closing the door. I have the claw marks to prove it! I often gave up just as Mrs. Jones did, and I am a supposed to be the professional.
There are a lot of ways to make the trip to the vet less stressful for your feline friend. I recommend checking out the American Association of Feline Practioneers (AAFP) website for a lot of good information and ideas at http://www.catvets.com/public/PDFs/ClientBrochures/Cat-to-VetHandout.pdf. Below are a few tricks I have seen work and hopefully you can find a few things that make your next trip a stress-free experience.
First, we need to address the cat carrier. This is often a sign of distress and distrust for cat and owner alike. It is important to get your cat used to the carrier. It is best to start at a young age, but if your cat comes to you later in life it is still possible to introduce the carrier in a nonthreatening way. I recommend a carrier with at least two openings which can make it easier to get a cat in and out from. There are both plastic and fabric options that work well. Start by leaving the carrier open around the house. This makes it part of the normal environment. You can also start to place treats into the carrier and even feed in the carrier. I don’t recommend closing the door initially, but over time start to close the door for just a minute or two per session.
I recommend trying feline pheromones such as Feliway (http://www.feliway.com). Feliway can help reduce stress and anxiety for things such as travel, introduction to a new home, intercat aggression, and potentially inappropriate urination. The best approach for helping with the carrier/travel is to spray a blanket with Feliway and leave it in the carrier. Reapply daily during the carrier acclimatization process and always apply an hour or two before travel. Plug-in diffusers are also available that can be placed around the home.
Also think about the timing of your visit. I recommend for pets that are nervous at the vet trying to pick a day and time when there are likely to be fewer pets, especially dogs. The extra noises and smells created by other dogs and cats can exacerbate an already stressful situation. Many hospitals, including ours, provide separate waiting areas for dogs and cats to limit interactions. I also encourage our staff to place anxious cats (pretty much all cats) directly in the room. Once in the exam room, place the carrier on the ground and open the door to allow your cat to acclimate to the area. Often times just a few minutes will allow them to calm down and get their bearings from the preceding stresses of the carrier and car ride.
If your cat still resists the carrier or continues to become stressed during travel, there are options for anti-anxiety medications that may help facilitate the process. Prior to starting any medication I recommend consultation with your veterinarian to determine appropriateness and safety for your individual cat.
Give it a try and please check out the links above. Hopefully your future visits to the vet are stress free for both you and your cat.
Until next time, Dr. Nick.