by Jennifer Viegas
Few cat owners relish the thought of taking their feline to the veterinarian, so imagine how your cat feels about it. "Cats are the ultimate control freaks," explains Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinarian at Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, Calif. "If you even so much as move a couch in your home, your cat will likely be in a tizzy for weeks."
Richter is very gentle with his furry clients. He was recently named one of the top ten veterinarians in the entire country by Petplan pet insurance, but even he has seen many vet-phobic cats over the years. Is it a hopeless mission to ease the fears of a freaked out feline in such situations? Absolutely not, he says, as does Dr. Jane Brunt CATalyst Council Executive Director and former president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Here's what they suggest:
1. Schedule appointments at less busy times.
The same way you wouldn't want to wait in a noisy room packed with malcontent patients, neither does your cat. Richter advises scheduling appointments either early in the morning, first thing, or toward the end of the vet's day. In both cases, the crowd should have dissipated, making the atmosphere less noisy and chaotic.
Brunt additionally says that "you might want to consider finding a cat-friendly veterinarian. The American Association of Feline Practitioners has developed a program that certifies veterinary practices as 'cat friendly.'" Participants have to apply and may obtain either a gold ("optimum level") or silver (meets "essential criteria") status.
2. Get your cat to like its carrier.
Richter echoes Brunt's advice above. "You wouldn't believe some of the carriers that people bring in," he says. "Some look like they've lived on a workbench in a garage for ages. They come in dirty and smelly. It's no wonder the cat hates the carrier." He and Brunt recommend that owners do the following:
- Leave the carrier out in the open in high cat traffic areas. The cat will then become more used to it and not only associate it with scary things.
- Keep the carrier clean at all times. Cats are among the world's most fastidious individuals.
- Place a soft blanket, towel or other cover inside. Brunt says that many cats may even nap inside the carrier willingly.
- Put food treats in the carrier every so often, again so that your pet will associate it with pleasant happenings.
3. Make the vet visit as fun as possible.
Your cat reads your emotions, so stay calm and upbeat. Drive smoothly, avoiding any bumps and sharp turns, if possible. Avoid loud air conditioning and radio, since less stimulation during potentially scary times is better for your cat.
4. Lessen visual and auditory stimulation while in the waiting room.
If you have a scared-y cat, it helps to lessen what your pet sees and hears. Ideally, your veterinary office will have separate waiting rooms for dogs and cats. Place a towel over your cat's carrier, if necessary, to close out visual stimulation and some smells (your cat will be sensitive to these).
5. Work with your vet to determine the proper level of restraint.
Richter has some feline patients who seem to crave any and all attention, while others "get really wound up and are ready for blood by the time I enter the room." Even cats that are tame at home can suddenly revert to a more feral state when out of their familiar environment. In those cases, it helps to have an understanding, experienced vet. Richter keeps detailed records on each cat patient, so that he knows exactly how to manage each feline's needs.
6. Keep the visit brief.
"This is more on the vet," Richter says. But you can help by not stopping for unnecessary social chats or running errands while your cat may be hoping to get back home.
7. At home, allow your cat to calm down.
"Cats are classically known for displaced aggression," Richter explains. "They may dig you one if they are unhappy once out of the carrier. If stressed, just let them calm down for a while."
All of the above might seem like a big hassle, but Brunt reminds that 68 percent of all cats over the age of three suffer from dental disease. She adds that most cases of diabetes can be prevented with proper advance care. "A simple checkup can help detect and treat preventable diseases and conditions that can cut a life short," Brunt shares. Patience and preparation before vet visits can therefore offer big rewards.
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