It’s time to go to the vet, but you can’t find your cat anywhere. When you finally locate her you have to fight to get her in the carrier, and then she howls all the way to the clinic and back. Here’s how to take the stress out of those vet visits.

Let’s face it. Most cats don’t enjoy going to the vet. In fact, depending on your cat’s temperament, a vet visit can be a harrowing experience for both of you. I have a cat, appropriately named Monster, whose behavior at the vet’s office used to be embarrassing. The worst of it haunts me to this day. Early one morning, I dropped him off at the clinic on my way to work, as he was exhibiting signs of urinary blockage. Two hours later, I received a phone call at my job: “Ms. Rousser, we need you to come pick up your cat. We can’t get him out of the kennel.”

Upon arriving at the vet’s office, I was ushered into the back area, where Monster’s kennel was placed so high I had to get a stepladder to get him down. The room cleared as everyone expected psycho-cat to go ballistic once he got out. As I cautiously opened the door, a menacing hiss issued from inside. I spoke softly to Monster and gingerly placed my hand within smelling distance. After one whiff, he meowed and calmly walked to the door, allowing me to lift him out. Monster was once again the cat I knew and loved. But it was short-lived. The vet still had not had a chance to examine him, so since I have experience with animals (and the techs were a little afraid of him), I restrained him so she could palpate his stomach. Suddenly, the monster returned with a vengeance. He hissed, spat and bit my arm.

We love and cherish our feline companions, so most of us also wish there was some way to make vet visits easier. Since my experience with Monster, I’ve learned a few tips that have helped make things less stressful for everyone involved.

  • Whenever possible, be with your cat while she is being examined. Because you have a relationship with her, your presence is comforting to her. That is why Monster was so willing to come out of his kennel for me, but swatted at anyone else who tried.
  • Stay calm during the exam. Your cat takes her cues from you, so if you stay relaxed, she is also more likely to do so. Avoid overly emotional responses to simple procedures like temperature-taking. Speak to the vet in conversational tones and maintain a relaxed body posture. Remind yourself that although these few minutes might be uncomfortable for your cat, it would be a lot more uncomfortable if she developed a disease that could have been prevented or alleviated by routine checkups.
  • If you can, take your cat other places besides the vet’s office. This will reduce anxiety on the ride to and from the exam. If you purchase things from your vet’s office, like medication, bring your cat along for the ride. This shows her that the car and vet’s office are not always negative experiences.
  • Bring along a handful of your cat’s favorite treats. Positive reinforcement is the key to any type of behavior modification. Just be aware of what you are reinforcing! A common mistake people make is giving their animals treats when they display anxious behaviors. This inadvertently trains them to be anxious. Give your cat treats only when she is sitting quietly and calmly, and pay as little attention as possible to the anxious behavior. The calm behavior may be fleeting at first, but it will become more prevalent once your cat learns she will get rewarded for it. This training will reduce stress, as well as minimize or eliminate the need for any tranquilizing drugs during exams or other travel.

Your cat may never look forward to her vet visits, but these suggestions can make them a lot less stressful for her, as well as easier on you and your vet. They have certainly helped Monster calm down. He hasn’t bitten anyone in years, and at his last visit, he didn’t even hiss. In fact, my vet now confesses he is one of her favorite patients!

The essence of calm

  • Flower essences can effectively reduce vet visit anxiety. They can be applied before and during the trip to the clinic, and even while you’re in the waiting room.
  • Gently rub a drop or two on your cat’s ear tips or paw pads.
  • Alternatively, rub a couple of drops between your palms, and wipe them gently over your cat’s body.
  • You can also put flower essences with water in a spray bottle, and spray the inside of your car and cat’s carrier.
  • Bach Rescue Remedy is a good flower essence combination to have on hand for vet visits. Rock Rose and Aspen are good individual remedies to help calm fear and anxiety.