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You may not be aware of it, but your behavior can influence the way your cat acts. In certain situations, this can be problematic — if you are nervous and on edge, your cat is likely to be anxious and upset. Fortunately the reverse is true as well: When you maintain a pleasant and unconcerned demeanor, it increases the likelihood that your cat will keep her cool, even in stressful situations.
This is especially true when we’re talking about visits to the veterinarian. The vet’s office can be stressful for cats and their owners, and for many felines, this can lead to missed appointments and subsequent health issues. Fortunately, veterinarians across the country are working to make visits fear-free for cats — and you can do your part to help your own feline on his visits to the vet.
The goal of Fear-free veterinary care is to transform veterinary care into an experience that’s less stressful for pets and people. This is particularly beneficial for cats: Lowering stress can protect your feline’s physical and psychological well being and increase the likelihood that she will receive necessary preventive care.
Fear-free care relies on a team approach —pet owners work in conjunction with vet clinic staff to provide low-stress care. For cat owners, this can mean finding ways to help reduce a feline’s anxiety both before and during the actual exam.
Be prepared. Don’t wait until the day of your cat’s appointment to prepare her for her trip to the vet. Instead, work on creating positive associations with various predictable aspects of the vet visit, like getting in her crate, riding in the car and being handled by new people. If your cat still seems anxious about her visit, talk to your vet about other methods for soothing her. Medications, pheromones or supplements may help to manage her fears.
Plan ahead. Before you head to your appointment, work with your veterinary team to address your cat’s emotional health during her visit. Little changes, such as waiting in your temperature-controlled car until an exam room is available (rather than in the busy lobby) can have a big impact on your cat’s stress level. Creating an action plan and brainstorming solutions for potential problems before you get to the office can help to alleviate anxiety — yours and your cat’s — during the exam.
Don’t hover. When you’re concerned about your cat, your instinct may be to hover and closely observe her. The problem is that this type of direct body language and eye contact may intimidate your cat or make her feel trapped and threatened. Instead of making your cat the center of attention, let her feel like she’s invisible: Look at your cat with your peripheral vision or make only brief, casual eye contact with soft, slow blinks. If possible, offer her a place to burrow and hide. You can do this by placing her bedding in your lap or in her carrier.
Watch your words. Cats learn to associate certain words or tones with either good or bad things. If your cat learns to associate anxious talk like “it’s OK, it’s OK” with a scary or painful thing happening, the words themselves can make her anxious. Instead, try to use words that have a positive association for your cat. In some situations, stress may be alleviated by asking your cat to do something specific, like a trick, in return for a reward. If talking seems to escalate your cat’s fear, bypass it altogether. If your cat is distracted or distressed by background noise, the iCalmCat portable player’s soft music may help.
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