Tips to Ease a Cat's Anxiety at the Vet Clinic

Cat in carrier being examined by vet
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Cat not a fan of the vet clinic? To ease her fear, start by training her to like her crate.

My cat is terrified of the vet. Normally, she’s friendly and affectionate, but she goes into panic mode at the vet’s office and tries to attack or run away when anyone approaches her. She has to be sedated at every visit — otherwise the staff can’t lay a hand on her. Is there anything I can do to help her?

A cat’s fear of the veterinarian can make visits stressful for an owner, but it can also be detrimental for the cat. Fear of the vet is one of the top reasons felines fail to see the veterinarian as often as is recommended. Your cat isn’t the only feline who fears the veterinary office, though, and you’ve taken the right first step in asking for help.

The key to helping your cat lies in managing her anxiety about veterinary visits before you get to the vet’s office. To do this, it is important that you work in concert with the veterinary team to help your feline feel safe. A good place to begin is with some simple at-home training.

Start With Crate-Training

The first step is to work with your cat at home to get her used to being in a crate and riding in the car. Many cats dislike being crated, because they’ve never been properly crate-trained, and because the crate comes out only when they are going somewhere unfamiliar and potentially frightening. As a result, most experiences cats have with crates are negative: The cat is forced inside the unfamiliar crate and then taken in the car to an unfamiliar place like the vet or the groomer. In the end, the crate itself becomes a signal to the cat to freak out, because something bad is likely to happen anytime the crate makes an appearance.

Your goal is to condition your cat to see the crate as a sign that something good is about to happen. Start by choosing the right crate. I recommend a crate with a removable top for cats who are fearful at the vet. This will allow your cat to be examined from the comfort of her crate, which can help to lower her anxiety level.

The first step in allaying your cat’s fears is accustoming her to the sight of the crate. Keep it out where she can see and explore it. Leave the door open and drop treats into the crate during the day to encourage her to venture inside on her own. Teach her that the crate is really just a piece of fun furniture.

Feed your cat’s meals close to the crate. As she gets more relaxed around the crate, move her food dish closer to it. Once she is willingly going into the crate on her own, move her food inside the crate. The goal is to teach her that good things — like meals and treats — happen when she’s in her crate.

Next, practice closing the door for short periods of time while she’s in the crate. Drop treats into the crate through the side, so that your cat learns to associate a closed door with delicious rewards.

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