It’s time to talk about cats! Taking cats to the veterinary clinic is often stressful for the cat and owner, and is one reason many of us (including myself) try to avoid it! My cat Cali was due for her senior wellness visit, and I wanted to see if I could make it less stressful for her. With our fear free training, I decided to try some anxiety reducing products and positive reinforcement to see if I could make her upcoming visit less stressful for her.
The first stressor in a cat’s veterinary visit is being put into the cat carrier and Cali was no different. I took her carrier out a week prior to her appointment and sprayed it with Feliway spray, which is a feline calming pheromone. I left the carrier door open, made sure there was a comfy towel inside, and put some of her favorite treats just outside of the carrier. Over the next couple of days, I continued offering treats, putting them further and further inside the carrier. I did this a couple of times a day until I was putting treats all the way into the back of the carrier. It didn’t take long for her to figure out that there were treats to be had, and it was “safe” to go in and get them. For Cali, treats were enough motivation. For your cat, it might be canned food, tuna, catnip or yogurt. Use what you think your cat will find most appealing.
Once she was going into the carrier without stress to get the treats, I started closing the carrier door for just a second or two while she was in it. Since she continued to munch and purr, I could tell this wasn’t stressing her out. I did this several times, increasing the time the door was closed by a few seconds each time.
Cali has never enjoyed car rides (this is true for most cats). Why would she? Cars are noisy and foreign to cats, and most cats are frightened about leaving the house, period, let alone going into a moving vehicle. I asked the Doctor to prescribe Gabapentin for Cali, to reduce her stress. I gave a dose (mixed into some canned food) the night before the appointment, and another dose 2 hours before we left. Cali is always “good” for the vet, but she is clearly very scared and stressed. I wanted to see if I could reduce her anxiety with the medication and make her experience less stressful.
About 20 minutes before it was time to leave, I sprayed Feliway in the car and the carrier and warmed up the car. A couple of minutes before we had to leave, I put some treats in the back of the carrier, and she walked right in on her own. I calmly closed the carrier and we were on our way! No chasing her around, trying to pull her out from under a bed, or struggling to get her into the carrier. We were off to a good start!
Now I won’t tell you Cali was magically happy about a car ride, but she was noticeably less upset than in the past. I made sure to drive smoothly, keep windows closed to reduce traffic noises and smells, and played soft, relaxing music. Before we went into the clinic I draped a Feliway sprayed towel over her carrier, to reduce potentially scary outside stimuli. When cats are frightened, they like to hide. I was creating a darker, more comfortable space for her where she could feel relatively safe. The calming pheromones, made her feel less stressed.
Once in the exam room, I gave Cali some treats, which she ate. She was a little nervous and opted to crawl into the kitty box we have in the room for cats to curl up in. Dr. Jackie was able to do most of her exam right in the box which made Cali feel a bit more safe. For her blood draw, we drew blood from her back leg. Cats tend to tolerate that well, and she was able to hide her head under the towel (Cali likes to hide when she is anxious). We finished her exam, trimmed her nails and gave her vaccine without too much stress.
All in all, everything went very well. I feel like I was able to make things less stressful for her from start to finish. I won’t tell you she loves going to the vet, but I think my efforts helped. I’m glad that I took the time to make some changes to make the experience less scary for her.
These things were pretty easy to do. If you would like more information on Feliway or think your cat would benefit from anti anxiety medication before a visit, please let us know. Our goal is to make veterinary visits less stressful for all pets (and their people)!