“The ominous hissing, the mournful meows, the defensive scratching and biting, the upset bowels—feline stress is unpleasant for cats, clients, and you [the kitty’s veterinarian].”
Many cats get very stressed by trips to the vet. So stressed, in fact, that many cat owners avoid routine vet visits altogether.
As anyone owned by a cat well knows, trying to convince Fluffy to do ‘A’ when Fluffy wants to do ‘B’ is pretty much pointless.
Kitties have minds, moods and goals of their own. And unlike their canine counterparts, many felines have no natural inclination to please the humans in their lives.
If you share your life with a cat, you probably learned early on to let Garfield do what he wants, when he wants, because let’s face it -- he will anyway.
One of the few exceptions to the generally sound ‘let the cat rule’ rule is when it comes to vet visits. This is a time in your feline companion’s life when it is necessary to exert your will over hers.
Cats need at least one and preferably two yearly professional wellness exams just as dogs do.
If you’ve been putting off those visits -- and can’t find a traveling vet that does in-home wellness exams -- it’s time to learn how to win the battle with a kitty that wants to hide under the bed at the precise time you want to take her to the vet.
It’s All about the Carrier
If you don’t have one already, I highly recommend you invest in a carrier for your cat.
Trying to carry and hold your kitty in your arms when she’s stressed and in unfamiliar surroundings can be dangerous for both of you. A cat that is determined to escape your hold will find a way eventually – and you might get scratched up in the process.
In addition, a cat loose in a moving vehicle is never a good idea. Most kitties will quickly find a dark, covered place to hide, like under the seat. Good luck getting Fluffy to come out once you’ve reached your destination.
Some kitties will try to get as close to you as possible, while also hiding. The obvious choice? Under either your gas or brake pedal. Needless to say, your kitty should be confined during travel.
So invest in a hard plastic carrier with an easily removable top. The crate should be large enough to allow your kitty to stand up and turn around in it, but not so large she slides or bounces from end to end or side to side while being carried.
Introduce Your Cat to the Carrier at Home
The more comfortable your kitty is with his carrier, the less stress he’ll feel when he’s in there by your choice and not his. In theory, since felines like dark, covered, cozy spots to rest or hide, they should like crates.
I say ‘in theory’ because cats also have a knack for turning up their noses at the cozy little spaces their people provide for them in favor of some other spot of their own choosing.
I suggest you purchase your crate well ahead of a planned vet visit. Bring it home and leave it out in a place convenient to your cat.
If your kitty is used to seeing his carrier every day, he’ll be much less likely to associate it with stressful events like travel or a visit to the vet.
You’ll probably need to entice your cat to use his crate – at least initially. Put a favorite blanket or towel and a toy in it. Put some treats in there as well. I have lured in my cats by placing a warmed up neck wrap or hot water bottle under a soft blanket. With a lot of patience and a little luck, your favorite feline will warm up to his carrier and begin to go in it to rest, sleep or just watch the world go by.
Rehearsal Car Rides and Vet Visits
Hopefully by now your cat is comfortable and perhaps even enjoying being in his new carrier.
If so, it’s time to close and latch the door, carry the crate to your car, and take a short drive to get your cat familiar with being confined in his crate, in a moving vehicle.
Take a few short drives and monitor your cat’s reaction each time. The goal is to get him a bit more comfortable with each short drive.
If possible, include a stop at your vet’s office on one of these outings. Take the carrier into the clinic and hang around long enough to let your kitty take in the sights, sounds and smells of her vet’s office.
There’s no need to see the doctor on this visit – your goal is simply to familiarize your kitty with new surroundings in an effort to decrease the amount of stress she feels during her scheduled visits to the vet.
Getting Kitty In and Out of the Carrier
Unless your kitty is a rather unique specimen, chances are he’ll object to being put into the carrier.
Of course, once he’s in his crate and at the vet’s office, he’ll object to coming out of it.
That’s why I recommend a carrier with an easily removable top. These carriers typically have several large screws or latches, which are easy to turn by hand and allow you to attach and detach the top of the crate.
Rather than try to stuff an unwilling kitty either head or tail first through the door of his carrier, you can simply remove the top, sit him in the bottom section, replace the top and lock it into position.
When you get to the vet’s office, if Fluffy is now determined to stay in the crate, you can simply remove the top.
This allows your frightened, wary feline to remain in the relative safety of his carrier while the vet gets a first look at him. He can then be easily lifted up and out for closer examination when the time comes.
Just as it’s not a good plan to try to force kitty into the carrier, it’s a bad idea to force him out either by yanking on him or attempting to dump him out. One or both of you can be injured in the scuffle, and this is a good way to elevate your cat’s stress level exponentially, which is exactly what you don’t want to do.
A Few More Tips for Stressed Out Kitties
Some cats are more prone to be stressed than others. It’s possible that despite your best efforts, you won’t achieve an appreciable difference in your kitty’s level of upset during car rides and vet visits.
Talk with your holistic vet about specific homeopathic, herbal or nutraceutical remedies that might help address your kitty’s stress level. You can also research Bach flower essences, Spirit Essences or OptiBalance Pet remedies.