Less Stressful Trips to the Veterinarian for You and Your Feline Companion

By Deborah Carlson, DVM, Head of Pilchuck’s Cat Care Center

It’s that time again: Fluffy is due for her annual exam. You get the cat carrier out of the garage ... and Fluffy immediately bolts under the bed. An hour later, she remains under the bed. You are covered in sweat and scratches.

One of the most common excuses cat owners give for not visiting the veterinarian is the stress of getting the cat to the clinic. The process of “stuffing” the cat into a carrier can be stressful and exhausting for both of you. Here are 10 tips to help adjust your cat’s opinion of the carrier and travel. While best to start these with kittens, carrier training is possible at any age.

1. Keep the carrier out all the time in a safe place. Many cats only leave the house when they have a veterinary appointment and learn to associate the carrier with the car ride and visit to the vet.

2. Turn the carrier into a positive environment by randomly leaving treats inside. Your cat will learn to visit the carrier to see if a treat has magically appeared.

3. Occasionally zip up or close the carrier with the cat inside, calmly pick up the carrier and take the carrier with you for a few steps, and then open it. Reward your cat with a treat when she/he steps out.

4. Every once in a while, close the carrier with the cat inside and then go sit in the car with the cat in the carrier. Calmly talk to your cat and feed her/him treats. Turn on the engine or drive around the block, and then return your cat indoors. Feed treats as the cat exits the carrier.

5. For longer trips, spray the inside of the carrier with a calming pheromone spray such as Feliway, or place a piece of clothing or a special blanket inside the carrier. The familiar scent of home can have a calming influence.

6. Some cats prefer that their carriers be covered with a blanket or towel while traveling.

7. If your cat vocalizes during the trip, talk to him/her in a calm voice. Try not to whisper or make a shushing sound, as this is often mistaken by your cat as a hiss.

8. Do not feed your cat prior to the appointment. A meal before a car ride could cause an upset tummy for cats that get car sick.

9. Once you have arrived at the vet, keep your cat’s carrier on your lap and away from dogs or high traffic areas.

10. If your cat is especially anxious about visiting the vet, consult with your veterinarian about prescribing sedatives for your cat prior to the visit.

With a little time and a lot of rewards, your cat will learn to like his/her carrier, and trips to the veterinary hospital will become less stressful for all involved. Here’s to happy travels!

Dr. Carlson heads Pilchuck’s Cat Care Center. The Center is designed to make veterinary appointments as stress-free as possible for feline patients and their people. Features include a separate entrance and waiting area for cats.

For small-animal appointments, call 360.568.3113. 24/7 emergency care available. Located in Snohomish.