Cats,  Merlin,  Vet 101

Vet Visits Made Easy

If you love cats, sharing makes us purrrr :-)

Every Thursday, our resident cat expert and our vet, Dr. Richard Goldstein answers reader’s questions in Q & A. If you have a question please sent it to [email protected]


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.



  • Jen

    My one cat has an interesting way of dealing with the stress of going to the vet. He poops. A lot. This is not so bad when he’s in and out of the carrier, I just bring kitty wipes and a replacement blanket for the carrier. However, he’s a large cat and freakishly fast and strong! 😉 He has gotten away from even the best techs before.

    It can be quiet messy when that happens.

    And a bit stinky. 😉

    But I love him anyway.

  • Mr Puddy

    Mom and Dad said they are lucky ! I never have a problem to get into the carrier ! Actually, I love to hide in there, even nap ! because my pawrents alwys leave it outside ! My one is the soft carrier and can open from the top and the front ! and mom guess I don’t mind it because it’s soft and our VET is so close to us, 5 Min. driving.
    But Great article for all cats who have get scared to get into it

  • Admiral Hestorb

    I have been through heck. Hard shell, her expensive soft smaller one..she will not be tricked more thn once getting into it. Once it’s closed and she’s trapped it’s all over but the horrific screaming and anguished yowling. I have been in tears because she acts so betrayed.

  • Marg

    I have been very lucky even with the feral kitties. Some of them will meow all the way to the vet but that is about it. The ones that are hard to get in, I just turn my ole timey carrier up on end and put them in back feet first. Now there are two here that I couldn’t possibly get in a carrier right now. Girl Kitty knows when I am thinking of catching her. And Mewmew I probably could get if she will come in the house. But also our vet, when we get there usually just turns them loose in the room unless they are really feral and then I just leave them in the carrier and they would rather be in there. Sorry this is so long.

  • Cheysuli

    Of course don’t forget to leave the carrier out so that it becomes just another hiding place or play place. We have soft sided carriers and they frequently get placed around the house from time to time for weeks before the event. We still hate getting forced into one but it’s not quite the same level as when we just pull the carrier out.

  • Caren Gittleman

    “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.”

    That is the most IMPORTANT advice ever. I have never had a problem with either of my cats and your tips above are something that I did (and still do) on each and every trip. If I am driving I also make sure my cat is in the front seat in the carrier, turned to face me so I can give an occasional nose scratch while driving. I also try to play softer music in the car and I talk to him the entire way there.

    I am a firm believer in leaving the carrier out with the door open not just a few days before the vet trip but EVERY DAY.

    • boomermuse

      Caren, I think your idea of softer music or perhaps their favorite music? Leaving the carrier with the door open out at all times as an extra cozy “nest” works . It can be camouflaged with a pretty cloth or towel.

      • Ingrid King

        Leaving the carrier open has never worked with any of my cats. Our carriers are out all the time, and all of my cats have enjoyed napping inside the carriers at one time or another. However, when it’s time to go to the vet’s, they all put up a fight. They just know.

      • boomermuse

        They know almost before we do. Does a homeopathic remedy or a spritz of Feliway work for your girls?

      • Ingrid King

        Allegra did okay with flower essences (Rescue Remedy). I didn’t use Feliway with her. Ruby hasn’t had to go to the vet’s since she’s been here, her first check up was done by a housecall vet.

  • Ingrid King

    Cold exam tables are one of my biggest pet peeves at veterinary clinics who aren’t good at dealing with cats. To me, it’s actually a measure of how good a clinic is going to be with cats – if they don’t use something soft on the exam table, I’m not all that confident that they really know and understand cats needs!

    Housecall vets really are the best solution for cats, followed by feline only vet clinics. However, ultimately, the most important thing is that you’re working with a vet who loves and is good at working with cats. Not all general practice vets are.

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