Cat - Guidelines for taking to the Vet

Why are cats reluctant to travel?

Cats are very strongly bonded to their environment and any change is likely to result in significant stress. If we consider the changes that we are enforcing on a cat when we take it to the vet, it is hardly surprising that many cats are very stressed by the time they arrive at the veterinary practice.

Cats are usually placed in a cat basket which they have either never been in before, or associate with a bad experience when previously going to the vet or cattery. Often placing the cat in the basket is associated with a bit of a struggle from the cat, increasing both the cat and their owner’s anxiety levels. The cat is then faced with the car journey and many unfamiliar smells, sights and noises. When it arrives at the veterinary practice there may be lots of unfamiliar people and animals, bringing more unfamiliar smells and sounds.

How can I minimise the stress?

If the cat realises that the environment is safe, its anxious state will resolve. However, anxiety will be heightened by loud noise, sudden movement, new objects or smells, approach by strange people (or other animals) into the cat’s personal space and a lack of control over what is happening.

Ways of trying to minimise stress should start well before the cat even gets to the veterinary practice. Simple things in preparation for the journey can significantly help reduce the stress of travel resulting in a much happier and calmer cat by the time he/she arrives at the veterinary practice.

What type of carrier is best?

For safe travel, a cat carrier is essential. This is often the first battle for owners! Choice of cat carrier and some forward planning can make a huge difference in getting the cat into the carrier.

movinghouse_catcarrier_72The carrier should be strong, easy to carry and easy to clean. Choosing a top opening, rather than end opening carrier makes it much easier and less stressful for the cat in getting it in and out of the basket. If the visit to the vet is a planned one making sure you get the carrier out of storage to let the cat become accustomed to it is strongly advisable. Leave the door open and encourage the cat to go in and out. If the cat thinks of the carrier as part of its home environment, and even better associates it with a place to find treats and a comfortable bed, it will make getting the cat into it much less traumatic and make it feel much more at ease on the journey.

Put a favourite comfortable bed inside the carrier; one that has been recently used should be chosen so that there are some familiar smells in the carrier. It is also worthwhile spraying the carrier and bed with a product called Feliway™ at least half an hour before putting the cat in. This is a synthetic feline pheromone which helps cats to feel secure; it is available from your veterinary practice. Once the cat is securely in the carrier, it is advisable to cover the carrier with a blanket or towel as the cat’s stress will reduce more quickly in the dark.

Where should I put the carrier in the car?

Ensure that the carrier is placed somewhere in the car where it will be secure if you have to brake suddenly but where it has a good air flow. The best locations for this are in the footwell behind the front seat or on the seat strapped securely with a seat belt.

Make sure that you drive carefully so that the cat is not thrown around in the car. Speak to the cat quietly and calmly during the journey and/or play some quiet soothing music but avoid playing any loud music that could stress the cat further.

When I arrive at the veterinary practice, what should I do?

When you arrive at the veterinary practice, keep the carrier covered and be careful when you are carrying it not to bump the basket against anything or allow any dogs to come and sniff the basket. In the waiting room try and choose the quietest location to wait and wherever possible try to keep the carrier on a raised surface such as a chair or table, to avoid placing it on the floor. Cats feel much more secure when they are at a height.

You will notice your cat behaving much more calmly when you take it into the vets consulting room if you have followed all the above guidelines!

Used and/or modified with permission under license. ©Lifelearn, The Penguin House, Castle Riggs, Dunfermline FY11 8SG

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