Help for Cats That Freak Out at the Vet's Office

Help for Cats That Freak Out at the Vet's Office

Story at-a-glance -

  • It’s an established fact that the majority of cats hate visits to the veterinarian, and most cat parents hate subjecting their pets to the ordeal.
  • As you might expect, the reluctance of many cat owners to schedule veterinary wellness exams means there are lots of cats in the U.S. who aren’t receiving adequate health care. This is a troubling trend, especially for older kitties. Too many cats aren’t seeing a vet until they are very sick or in significant pain.
  • The American Association of Feline Practitioners has launched a “Cat Friendly Practice” initiative for veterinary clinics. The initiative is intended to make vet offices more welcoming to cats, and to improve the quantity and quality of healthcare kitties receive.
  • A cat’s health status can change quickly – especially for kitties getting up in years. Twice yearly wellness checkups can help your vet find and address developing health problems before they turn into full-blown disease.
  • There are steps cat owners can take to help ease stress during vet visits. These include vet visit ‘rehearsals,’ getting your cat used to being handled from head to toe, getting him familiar with his carrier before vet visits, and using natural substances like Bach’s Rescue Remedy to help reduce anxiety and fear.

By Dr. Becker

Those of you reading here today who share your lives with a cat know taking Tiger for vet visits can be an upsetting experience for both of you.

In fact, many kitties are so distressed by vet visits their owners decide it's more harmful than helpful to subject their pet to routine wellness exams.

According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP)i:

  • In the United States, there are 86 million owned cats and 78 million owned dogs
  • Almost twice as many cats than dogs never visit the veterinarian
  • Of the cats that do visit the veterinarian, they average 26% fewer visits than dogs
  • 39% of cat owners say they would only take their cat to the veterinarian if the cat was sick
  • 60% of cat owners report that their cat hates going to the veterinarian
  • 38% of cat owners report that they get stressed just thinking about bringing their cat to the practice

The result, of course, is too many cats are not seen by a veterinarian until they become sick.

And because kitties are excellent at hiding discomfort and illness, often a disease process is quite advanced before the cat parent even knows there's a problem.

Making Veterinary Practices More Feline Friendly

To help provide solutions to the problem of declining feline vet visits, the AAFP has created a "Cat Friendly Practice" initiative aimed at veterinary clinics.

The goal of the initiative is to help vet practices become more welcoming places for cats, and more accommodating to their unique needs.

Hopefully this will ultimately encourage more cat owners to bring their pets to the vet for routine wellness checkups.

In order to be designated a "Cat Friendly Practice," a vet clinic must have at least one DVM on staff who belongs to the AAFP. The clinic must also comply with a 10-item checklist covering the following areas:

  1. Staff Training & Continuing Education / Client Communications
  2. Veterinary Practice / Waiting Room
  3. Feline Handling & Interaction with Clients
  4. Examination Room & Clinical Records
  5. Wards Facilities
  6. Pain Management / Operating Room & Anesthesia
  7. Surgical Equipment & Dentistry
  8. Diagnostic Imaging & Laboratory Facilities
  9. Treatment / Health & Safety
  10. Preventative Care by Life Stages

The staff submits their completed checklist for review, and if the AAFP approves, the clinic receives the "Cat Friendly Practice" designation.

The vet office then receives marketing materials to promote its cat-friendly status to the community, and is listed in a Cat Friendly Practice online database.

According to the AAFP, there are actually two levels a veterinary practice can qualify for. "Silver Standard" status means the practice has met the standard criteria to be a Cat Friendly Practice. "Gold Standard" status is awarded to vet practices that have implemented an optimum level of cat-friendly criteria.

Why I Recommend Twice-a-Year Vet Visits for Kitties

I encourage semi-annual vet checkups for cats for a number of reasons, including:

  • Your kitty's health can change quickly, and especially if your pet is older. I frequently see senior cats with normal kidney enzymes in January who have elevated kidney enzymes 6 months later. The earlier I detect a problem, the more successful I am at slowing, stalling or reversing a disease process.
  • If your cat has a health problem brewing, the earlier it is found and treated, the better the chance for a full recovery. Because I take a proactive approach to your pet's well being, I'm able to address a developing issue before it turns into full-blown disease. But I can't do that unless I see your kitty regularly.
  • Unfortunately, many cats these days are overweight or obese. I have found getting a too-heavy cat back in shape is more successful when the owner and I work together toward a weight loss goal. And since good nutrition is the foundation of good health, even for kitties at optimum weight I find it extremely beneficial to regularly review diets and nutritional supplements and make adjustments as necessary.
  • Many indoor cats never get out of the house except for trips to the vet. More frequent trips can sometimes reduce the amount of stress your kitty feels at each visit.

In addition to regular professional checkups, I also recommend you perform routine at-home wellness exams on your cat. This will help you learn what's normal for your pet, and therefore, what's not normal.

How You Can Ease Your Cat's Vet Visit Phobia

Suggestions offered in the "AAFP/ISFM Feline-Friendly Handling Guidelines"ii include:

  • Perform 'rehearsal visits' to the veterinary clinic to help get kitty accustomed to trips in the car and the clinic environment. This includes loading your cat into her carrier and traveling around the block in the car.
  • Do mock vet exams at home to familiarize your cat with human handling. Do things like handle your pet's paws, inspect her ears, clip her nails, open and inspect the inside of her mouth, move your hands over her legs and body, and comb or brush her coat. If you do this regularly your cat will be less stressed when faced with the real thing at the vet's office.
  • Get your cat used to his carrier. If the only time your cat sees the carrier is for vet visits you can't blame him for panicking. Put your cat in his carrier with a few treats for 5 minutes a day for a week prior to the visit. Even consider feeding your cat in the crate, leaving the door open to encourage exploration on his own. Leave the carrier out for a week prior to the vet visit so your cat can inspect it.
  • The morning of the appointment find him well in advance of the time of your vet appointment and encourage him to enter the carrier on his own. Put an item with a familiar scent in the carrier, like his bedding or a toy he's fond of.

  • Consider administering homeopathy and Bach Flower Essences prior to the visit. There are several remedies including Bach Rescue Remedyiii and homeopathic Aconitum that can reduce anxiety and fear.
  • Stay cool. Keep in mind your kitty can sense your anxiety and stress, so remain calm. Stay positive and proceed at your cat's pace. Be aware of his response to what's happening, and use treats and other rewards to encourage desired behavior.