How Can I Help My Cat Relax at the Vet?

Cat in crate
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Q. I avoid going to regular veterinary appointments because my cat hates the office so much. What can I do to help her relax?

A. Cats can easily become stressed when taken out of their normal environment. Add in unfamiliar sights and sounds, being handled and probed, and even the occasional injection, and it’s no wonder the vet's office is a scary place for your cat.

Kittens, particularly those in their prime learning period (roughly 2-14 weeks), can be taught that the veterinary office means treats, toys, play and petting, which helps create a lasting, positive association. Unfortunately, if your cat was adopted later in life or has only limited or negative experiences with car rides and the vet office, you may have a harder time dispelling vet-related fears.

Teach Your Cat to Love Her Crate

One of the most stressful parts of going to the veterinarian is the car ride. Usually, the cat is already in a state of panic before she has even left the garage. To help your cat relax in the car, teach her to get comfortable in her crate. Be sure to start weeks before the veterinary visit happens, not at the last minute.

Rather than forcing your cat to go inside the crate, let her venture inside on her own. Leave the crate open, with a cushy blanket inside, in a room your cat likes to frequent. Make a trail of treats that leads to the crate, and place treats on the inside lip of the crate. Place a really tasty food treat inside the crate — something that will take her longer to eat, such as a small amount of tuna in a bowl or Kitty Kong. Put treats inside the crate randomly throughout the day; this will entice her to check out the crate regularly to see what amazing goodies are hidden inside. You don’t need many treats, though; think of the carrier as a slot machine that pays off randomly, but frequently enough to encourage consistent interaction.

Once your cat is voluntarily getting in the crate, start to shut the door for short amounts of time (one minute, to begin) while she enjoys a longer-lasting treat inside the crate. Keep the periods where the door is closed short and immediately let your cat out when the time is up. As she becomes more relaxed about being in the crate, shut the door for longer amounts of time while she has a longer-lasting reward. You should still randomly include shorter stays in the crate as well, to keep it varied. Once you can reliably close the door of the crate with your cat inside, practice picking the crate up and putting it back down while your cat enjoys a tasty treat, such as a bit of cheese.

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