Preparing Kitty for Their Appointment
In the event that your cat needs immediate medical attention, don’t try to follow these suggestions — just call us (if you have time), get your cat in the carrier by whatever means necessary, and come on in!
Taking the time to prepare your cat for your upcoming veterinary visit can reduce the stress of the visit significantly and result in higher quality diagnostics. To help you do this, we have prepared a list of actions you can take prior to your visit:
- Get The Right Carrier: There are a variety of carriers on the market. The most important design feature is that the carrier should be easy to open while the cat is inside. You can find this feature in both hard and soft-sided carriers. In general, the easier a carrier is to open, the less stress a veterinary visit is going to place on your cat. One caveat: we do not recommend carriers that only open from the top (such as the ubiquitous cardboard freebies); ideally, you want a carrier that, when open, your cat can walk out of without having to jump.
**We do require all cats coming to UCVC to be in carriers, preferably one carrier per cat.
- Make Your Cat Carrier A Safe Zone: Rather than storing your carrier in a closet or garage, find a place in your home where your carrier can conveniently sit. Make it attractive to your cat with soft, clean bedding (the fuzzier, the better!), catnip, toys, and treats. If your cat already reacts with fear to the carrier, try feeding your cat in the carrier exclusively for several weeks; when your cat will enter the carrier easily, stop the feeding and add the bedding and toys. Spraying the carrier, bedding and toys with feline facial pheromones (Feliway Ⓡ) every few days will increase positive associations with the carrier.
- Getting Your Cat Into The Carrier: If your carrier is a Safe Zone, this is almost never a problem. If not, you’ll need a strategy. We recommend putting warm, fuzzy bedding (or a piece of your clothing with your familiar scent on it) in the carrier, spraying that with feline facial pheromones (Feliway Ⓡ), and then placing the carrier into a small room with no other hiding places (a powder room is often ideal for this). Add one cat to the room 30 minutes prior to leaving. Your cat may enter the carrier because it is the only hiding place in the room; if not, remove the top of the carrier, encourage your cat to walk into the bottom tray, and then calmly replace the top.
- Putting The Carrier Into Your Car: Before taking the carrier to your car, cover it with a large towel (preferably also doused in Feliway), such that all the openings are covered and your cat cannot see out. Cats feel safer when they are hidden, and the towel can help greatly with that. The towel will also help retain heat in the winter. The safest place for the carrier is on the floor of the back seat of the car. If this is not feasible, look for a way to wedge the carrier into a spot where it will not budge in the event of a sudden stop. Seat-belting your carrier is NOT safe; crash testing has shown that most seat-belted carriers simply come apart in a crash, providing no protection at all. Do NOT open your cat carrier in your car — cats can wiggle into places that require an auto mechanic for removal. For your own protection, do NOT allow your cat out of the carrier while you are operating the vehicle.
- Understand and Mitigate The Effect Of Your Stress On Your Cat: Cats are little furry stress-sponges. If you are anxious, worried or upset about the vet visit, your cat will absorb and reflect that stress. Recognizing and managing your own anxiety, dread or fear before and during the visit is perhaps the single most important step you can take to make the visit easier for your cat.
- Rehearse The Clinical Examination At Home: Your kitty will be much more accepting of having all those body parts handled during an exam if these sensations are not strange and new. Get your cat used to being handled “vet-style” by doing the following at home:
- Handle your cat’s paws and ears regularly
- Gently open your cat’s mouth often and offer a tasty treat immediately afterward
- Incorporate your cat’s legs into your petting routine
- While petting, make sure you touch every part of your cat’s torso from neck to tail, including the belly and armpits if you can
- Brush or comb your cat now and then
Start small and never push your cat past his tolerance in the moment. Always reward your cat‘s good behavior with a treat or some playtime. Stick with it, and you’ll find that your cat will probably eventually accept whatever handling you do.
- Rehearse Travel: If your cat does not tolerate car travel well, we recommend that you drive your cat around your neighborhood a bit, then head home and reward with treats. Repeat as needed, increasing the distance driven as tolerated, always rewarding upon arrival home.
- Rehearse Your Visit: Schedule a time or times to bring your kitty to the clinic BEFORE the veterinary appointment. Bring your cat’s preferred treats. Once in an examination room, let your cat wander without the perceived threat of being handled. (It may take more than one visit for your cat to come out of the carrier — that’s ok!) Reward with treats. If things are going well, we can have a technician or assistant come into the room to pet your cat and give more treats. Then head on home. A few visits like this are a great way to change the “OMG WHERE HAVE YOU BROUGHT ME” response to a “Cool, I’m in this nice place where people pet me and give me treats” response. We do not charge for these visits, but we ask that you schedule them with us ahead of time, and be understanding of the need to finish a visit if another patient is coming in.
- Take Advantage Of Stress-Relieving Pharmacology: You’ve done everything right, but your cat is that special soul who is still terrified before the visit, during travel, or while in the clinic. Take heart; you are not alone, and we can help. We have a marvelous selection of safe and gentle medications to reduce anxiety and stress. Some can be given at home prior to the visit; others can be given with a quick and painless shot in the clinic; some cats need both. No cat should needlessly experience fear or stress. If your cat is that special little purr-sonality that stresses out easily, let us make that all go away with our happy drugs; your kitty will thank you!