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Posted on 12-06-2017

Your Role in Reducing Feline Anxiety

How do you feel when you know it’s time to take your cat to the vet? Enthusiastic because you know your cat will be excited to see new places and greet new people? Or, do you instead feel nervous about the prospect of having to corral your furry friend into a carrier that he hates, to then transport him in the car while he is meowing incessantly (or using the bathroom in the carrier), to finally arriving at the veterinary clinic where all the new sights, sounds, and smells turn him into either the shyest kitty (or the angriest kitty!) you have ever seen?

In my experience, the cats who love to get out of the house and see the world are few and far between. Cats are creatures of routine, familiarity, and habits. So for most kitties, a trip to the clinic (or anywhere else for that matter) really messes up their plans for the day. Yet, when a pet owner’s feline is in the clinic and acts completely out of character compared to how they are at home, owners often feel upset or even apologetic. So, let me first soothe your worries a bit and tell you that, if you have a cat that dislikes going to the clinic, you are most certainly not alone.  But the good news is there are some things both pet owners and veterinary clinics can do to help make the situation better for your cat!

What if, instead of the cat carrier being the first in a list of things that wind your cat’s anxiety up, we actually started using the carrier to our advantage? Cats love to sit on things and inside things. If you place that carrier somewhere in your cat’s environment and just leave it there with a snuggly blanket inside, pretty soon your cat might start walking in there willingly. Even better, make that the place they get all their kitty treats. So then, when it’s time to actually use the carrier and go to the clinic, all you have to do is throw a treat in and your cat will walk right in!

There are some other things that you can also do at home to bring down your cat’s anxiety on the day of a visit before leaving the house:

  • The synthetic feline facial pheromone Feliway is a great product to use in any stressful situation. You can spray the blanket or towel that is in the carrier about 20 to 30 minutes before you need to get your cat in the carrier.
  • You can try placing a special toy, catnip, or extra treats inside the carrier to help distract your pet.
  • Since environmental changes can be stressful, minimize visual stimulation by placing a lightweight towel over the carrier. Make sure there is still an area that is uncovered for airflow, and don't let your cat get too warm sitting in there.
  • When you carry the carrier, it’s best not to use the handle. Imagine being inside of a swinging box – would this reduce your anxiety? Instead, carry it with both hands like a box so that it is more supported.
  • If you have multiple pets, consider the needs of each pet. Will they do better going to the clinic at the same time? Or would it be less stressful to take them at separate times?
  • Try to make the car ride as soothing as possible by using calm and soft voices when speaking. And, while you may not have a copy of music developed just for cats on hand, playing super loud music all the way to the clinic is probably not going to help.

If you can successfully implement some or all of these suggestions, then you will help your cat arrive at the veterinary clinic with less anxiety. This in turn will help make the strategies that we implement in the clinic even more effective at minimizing your pet’s fear. Is your cat due for a check-up now? Then take advantage of our feline-focused appointment times in December. Stay tuned for next week’s blog where we will talk more about these feline-focused appointments!

Author: Dr. C. Noureddine, DVM, MS, MS