The annual vet trip is often a source of aggravation and stress for both guardian and kitty alike. But there are ways to truly make this a lot easier on everyone involved – including the vet, in fact.
Most of them involve desensitising your kitty to being removed from their territory and being touched everywhere, by a stranger of all things, in a place with other animals they don’t know. All of them can be done quite easily and require very little effort.
There is but one catch – for maximum effect, just about all of them require commitment and, most importantly time.
So let’s have a look!
1. The Portable Territory Manoeuvre
Most cats fear the pet carrier as much as they do the vet. That means that getting them in there on a constrained time schedule often becomes an ordeal. And it is no wonder – in this capacity, it pretty much becomes a kitty jail.
But what if we could change the way the cat perceives the pet carrier. In stead of a jail, it would become a safe haven – a home away from home. So…how do we do that?
First, leave the pet carrier out in a socially significant place. Put some treats there to encourage them to check it. Also, add an old towel in there so it can absorb their smell when they eventually use it as a sleeping spot.
That’s right – a sleeping spot. Think about it. It’s a perfect hiding spot, sure to make them feel safe and secure so long as they perceive it as a part of their territory instead of the evil cage of doom that brings them to the torturer.
When the time comes, they’ll take comfort in the familiarity of your pet carrier, instead of actively fearing it, making it that much more feasible for you to actually encourage them to take up residence there while you visit the vet.
It effectively becomes portable territory – a security blanket for the anxious kitty away from home.
2. Accessibility & Security
Many pet carriers open from the front only. That means that the cat has to be coaxed out to be examined at the vet. However, if you invest in a pet carrier that can open from the top, the vet can often examine the animal while surrounded by the reassuring walls of the pet carrier.
This allows your kitty to feel the least anxious possible during the examination which can prevent an escalation of aggression. Add the trick mentioned above, and they’ll effectively never have to leave the safety of their own territory!
3. Playing Doctor
This is especially smart to do from the get go with your new kitten, but can certainly be applied to a cat of any age.
Your kitty trusts you more than anyone – especially more than the vet. That said, you may have noticed that your cat isn’t exactly too keen on you touching their paws, ears or belly. This is because those body parts tend to be extra sensitive, frail or in need of protection.
Ears are very thin and easily torn – not to mention that their hearing is their most acute sense, making loud sounds near the ears painful. Paws contain a lot of very fragile bones. Meanwhile, they’re vital to the cat’s survival to catch food with – kind of like our hands. Lastly, the belly houses a lot of vital organs, and exposing it to a predator would almost certainly mean death.
Now, imagine a vet having to check out all these areas for your kitty’s wellbeing? If you cannot even go there without being warned by your cat, how is the vet supposed to?
So here’s what you want to do. Every time you and your kitty cuddle and they’re relaxed, make it a point to gently check their ears, push out their nails and caress their belly. This of course depends on the individual tolerance level of your kitty. You start where they let you start and you slowly build it up. Don’t ever push passed their indicated limits, always respect boundaries and never do it for too long. Frequency is key, as is keeping them happy during the experience.
Slowly but surely, you’ll build up their trust that nothing will happen to those precious parts of their body. And your vet will thank you for making their job that much easier.
4. Going For A Walk Or Drive
If you want to take suggestion 1 a step further, you can take your kitty for a walk. That’s right. In fact, I do this step also as a way to prep them for going outdoors on a harness.
After you’ve completed suggestion 1, you can take your kitty for a walk. My vet is in walking distance, so I have carriers that are more like hand bags, allowing me to sling them over my shoulder. I leave the top a little bit open so the cat can stick their head out (if you don’t trust they won’t jump out – most cats wouldn’t dare jump into unfamiliar territory, though – put them in a harness and attach it to the carrier), and get used to the outside.
Similarly, you can build on this exercise by introducing them to the car. Bring some treats. First they’re near the car – hand out treats, check. Then they’re inside the car – administer treats again. Next, the car gets started, but stays in the same place. After that, you go for a drive around the block, and so on. Go at your kitty’s pace so you don’t make it too hard on them all at once.
Finish this exercise with a big cherry on top: go to the vet. Feed them treats there, while weighing them in the waiting room, or whatever.
It will teach them that the vet office doesn’t have to be just a place of torture.
It can be a fun place where you get treats.
5. Be There For Them
If you haven’t had the time to do any of the above, there is still two things you can do for your poor kitty.
This is especially useful if they have to stay the night, or go into surgery and wake up there afterwards.
The night before you take them to the vet, wear an old t-shirt, or add an old towel between your blankets. That way, the shirt or towel will smell of you the next morning.
Then, add that to their carrier.
It’s a reassuring, familiar smell that will stay with them through the entire experience, giving them a literal security blanket while they go through their ordeal – something to hold on to, while they wait for you to come get them.
Be sure to tell your vet about it, so they can make sure that the cat has access to the towel or shirt at all times.
To top things off, spray their pet carrier with Feliway the night before. This is especially handy if you haven’t had the chance to do the first suggestion yet, where they have a towel with their own scent in the pet carrier. It mimics the pheromones a cat distributes when they’re marking their territory, which helps them feel safe.
So, in summary, buy yourself an pretty looking pet carrier you wouldn’t mind placing in your living room or bed room, for your kitty to sleep on, that opens from the top, and put in the time to help your kitty acclimatise to this vital part of their life. It’s important for their wellbeing and stress level, yours and your vet’s! And once you get the hang of it, you will wonder why you didn’t do any of this earlier!
So, what about your cat?
How do they take going to the vet?