Getting Your Cat to The Veterinarian
What Type of Carriers are Best?
We recommend inexpensive hard-sided carriers that open from the top, the front, and can also be taken apart in the middle are the best option. An easily removable top allows a cat that is fearful, anxious, in pain, or aggressive to stay in the bottom half of the carrier for exams. We can usually do the exam in the bottom half of a well-designed carrier. Choose a carrier that is sturdy, secure and stable for the cat, and is easy for you to carry. Carriers can be seat-belted into the car to keep your cat safer and to reduce the roughness of the ride to and from the clinic. Some cats like to see out, whereas others are less anxious when the carrier is covered with a blanket or towel.
We typically discourage soft sided carriers for a couple different reasons. The first being that they frequently do not hold their shape and can fall in on the cat, making it feel trapped. Soft sided carriers can also be difficult to get cats into because you have to use one hand to hold the opening open and the other to push the cat in, sometimes becoming a seemingly impossible task. Once you get the cat in, more often than not the zipper will get stuck and they can escape. Soft carriers also have quite a bit of give in them, making the kitty feel less secure than if they had solid plastic under them. It is also common for the cat to easily roll within the carrier and tip themselves over and feel disoriented and stressed. In addition, if you were in a car accident, a soft sided carrier would not protect your cat in the same way that a hard-sided carrier would.
Providing good health care, specifically preventive health care, can allow your cats to have longer, more comfortable lives. However, preventative health care cannot happen unless they see a veterinarian for needed care. Many cats dislike going to the veterinarian, and that starts with the stress and difficulty of getting the cat into the carrier. If we can make this step easier, the entire veterinary visit is usually less stressful.
Tips for getting your cat in the carrier
The following tips ensure veterinary visits will be easier for you and your cat. Cats are creatures of habit, and need time to adjust to unfamiliar things. The visit to the veterinarian is often difficult because the carrier, car, and the veterinary hospital are all unfamiliar. Respect your cat’s need for time to become familiar with new situations, people and places. Stay calm. Cats can sense our anxiety and/or our frustrations, which may cause them to become fearful or anxious. Cats do not learn from punishment or force, telling them to stop or calm down, or raising your voice at them, generally doesn’t work in the heat of the moment. We’ve found that shushing your cat can also cause more stress, as they can perceive it as a hiss. Give rewards to encourage positive behavior. For example, if your cat is sitting calmly in or near a carrier, give a veterinary approved treat. Likewise, rewards can be given to help your cat become familiar with the type of handling that may be encountered at the veterinarian (e.g., handling paws, ears and mouth). A treat is what is highly desirable to your cat, which may be in the form of food, play or affection. Be consistent and reward every time.
Helping Your Cat Become Comfortable with the Carrier
The goal throughout this process is for your cat to learn to associate the carrier with positive experiences and routinely enter voluntarily. Make the carrier a familiar place at home by leaving it in a room where your cat spends a lot of time. Leaving it in a familiar place helps them recognize that it’s a safe piece of home that comes with them to the vet. Place familiar soft bedding (cats love fleece) inside the carrier. Bedding or clothing with your scent can make them feel more secure, and less stressed. Place treats, catnip or toys inside the carrier to encourage the cat to enter at home. Often, you will first see that treats are removed from the carrier during the night. It may take days or weeks before your cat starts to trust the carrier. Remain calm, patient and reward desired behaviors. If you still have trouble, you may need to assess the carrier itself.
Getting an Unwilling Cat into the Carrier
If your cat needs to go to the veterinarian right away, and is not yet accustomed to the carrier, the following may help:
Start by putting the carrier in a small room with few hiding places. Bring the cat into the room and close the door. Move slowly and calmly. Do not chase the cat to get it into the carrier. Encourage the cat with treats or toys to walk into the carrier. If your cat will not walk into the carrier, and your carrier has an opening on the top, gently cradle your cat and lower it into the carrier. If the opening is at the front of the carrier, you can put your cat in backwards, gently pushing back on their head as they back into the carrier. You can also tip the carrier up so it’s on the back wall with the door facing up and open, then slowly lower the cat in backwards. Use familiar bedding inside the carrier (cats love fleece). Consider use of the synthetic happy cat pheromone called Feliway®. We carry this in the office, but you can find it online (Amazon) as well. Spray in the carrier at least 30 minutes prior to transport to help calm the cat.
Coming Home – Keeping the Peace in a Multi-cat Household
Cats are very sensitive to smells, and unfamiliar smells can result in one cat no longer recognizing another. Aggressive behavior can occur when one cat senses another as a stranger. These suggestions can help avoid problems between cats following a veterinary visit:
- Leave the returning cat in the carrier for a few minutes to see how all of your cats react.
- If all cats appear calm and peaceful, let the returning cat out of the carrier.
- If you sense tension between the cats, or if previous home-comings have resulted in conflict, keep the cat in the carrier and take it to a separate room to avoid potential injury from an upset cat. Provide food, water and litter box for a minimum of 24 hours while it regains the more familiar smell of home.
- If there is still stress after this time, contact your veterinarian for more advice on slower introduction or medication to help the process.
Feliway® can help provide the sense of familiarity. For future visits:
- Use familiar bedding or clothing with your scent, as it retains the smell of home and helps with reintroduction.
- Use Feliway® spray or wipes.
- Bring both cats to the veterinary practice together. This can prevent future conflict as both cats will carry the scent of the clinic.
If you’re still having issues or if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.