My cat Merlin has had a number of vets over the past sixteen years. Whenever possible he’s prefers a vet who makes house calls. He hates being in an enclosed space like a carrier but hates driving in a car more. No, he hates waiting in a waiting room and being bombarded with foreign sights, sounds and smells of the others especially dogs. He’s spoiled now with Dr. G’s mobile clinic. I simply carry him in my arms out the door and right into the clinic. It doesn’t get any better or easier. This week’s question addresses tips for making vet visits easier when you have to go make the trek to the vet.
Q: Unfortunately we have no mobile vets in our area and out cat hates going to the vet. She hides when we bring the carrier out. Please, do you have any tips for getting her into the carrier and making the car trip and vet visit more tolerable and less stressful? It’s a soft-sided carrier. She has vomited in the past. Thanks!
A: In the owner’s manual for cats, on page 735, it states that “travel to the vet is solely at the discretion of the cat”. So, what can we do to convince the cat that it’s in his best interest to go headfirst into a small, dark box, and get into a vehicle moving at high speeds, to go sit in a waiting room with strange smells and large barking creatures? Yikes! When you look at it from the cat’s point of view, can you blame her for being reluctant?
There are a few things you can try to lessen the stress of the ordeal. Ideally, a home visit works best for cats that hate the trip to the vet. If there are no mobile vets in your area, try asking your vet if he or she will make a house call. Believe it or not, some will! (especially if you explain the circumstances).
I really like a product called Feliway, which is a natural pheromone that mama cats secrete to calm down their unruly kittens. Spraying a bit on a towel, and putting it into the carrier a few minutes before the cat goes in may help allay some of the fears of getting into that box. I’ve seen it really help some cats. There are also some homeopathic remedies, like Calm Pet (and many others), that help relax some nervous cats.
Speaking of “getting into the box”, here are a few tips to try: If your cat won’t go in head first, try going in feet first. I really like the carriers with the tops that come off (or unzip), so that you can place the cat in from the top. If you have some time before the next vet visit, try leaving the carrier out for a few days with the doors open so he can explore it on his own time. You can also make a game out of it – put some treats in the carrier and let him hop in to get them. Some cats like to hide their heads, so try putting a towel in the carrier. Something that works well for my cat is to use a larger, portable, collapsible dog travel crate, with a sheepskin on the bottom. It’s lightweight and fits right in the back seat of the car. It’s even big enough for a small litter box. She doesn’t feel threatened or cramped, and quickly settles in for the journey.
And for the cats that REALLY defy all attempts to make the trip, speak to your vet about “medical intervention.” Sometimes a light sedative may be what the doctor orders to relieve the stress. After all, a stressed cat can not only hurt herself, she can also hurt you. And, as always, it’s safety first.
And if all else fails, I’ll pack up my truck and we’ll make a road trip!
Editor’s note: Over the years I’d sensed my pets disliking the slippery and cold stainless steel examining table in most vet’s offices. I was happy to read in noted animal behaviorist Temple Grandin’s book, Animals Make Us Human: “I tell people to bring a bathmat with a rubber backing from home to put on the table. Slipping causes panic in all animals.” I suggested to Dr. G. placing a soft, non-stick yoga mat which he has with good results.
Re: carriers, I’ve found a roomier hard shell carrier felt less claustrophobic for Merlin but some cats prefer a cozy smaller soft-sided carrier. Whatever you choose be sure to place something with a familiar scent that you cats are fond of, like a used t-shirt smelling of their human, a favorite toy or blankie. And last of all: talk to your cat. Communicate in a calm mood in words and images where you’re going, why and that you’ll be back home soon. Our pets react to our mood more than anything. If you’re stressed and anxious about the ordeal, your cat will pick up on it.