Cats are the most popular pets, but you sure wouldn’t know it by looking around the veterinarian’s waiting room.

Americans share their homes with 84 million cats and 72 million dogs, according to the American Pet Products Association. At the nation’s veterinary hospitals, though, dogs take most of the appointment slots and get most of the wellness care. A recent Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study revealed a third of pet cats did not see a veterinarian in the preceding year at all.

The biggest reason cats are shortchanged when it comes to their health is that people don’t like catching them, putting them in carriers, and dealing with the difficult behavior of fearful cats. So what can be done?

Some Clinics Are Becoming More Cat Friendly

The lack of preventive care for cats means making these pets happier has become a high priority for many veterinarians. Veterinary behaviorists have been helping veterinarians design facilities and protocols to make cat visits less stressful for all, including dogs, pet owners, and hospital staff. You’ll see a lot of changes in the years to come, as veterinary clinics and hospitals begin to handle feline patients with greater knowledge of feline behavior.

The use of pheromones is one such change. When I’m practicing, I wear so much of the synthetic cat pheromone called Feliway (a version of feline facial pheromones, which relax cats) that it’s more like aftershave to me.

What You Can Do

As veterinarians work to make their practices fear free and feline friendly, there’s a lot you can do to help your cat relax when it’s time to see the doctor. The American Academy of Feline Practitioners offers new guidelines. Here are the main points.

  • Get your cat used to being handled. Be patient and build up your cat’s tolerance for handling. Make sessions short and reward your cat with treats or the kind of petting she enjoys, such as under the chin.
  • Choose a cat-friendly carrier. Find a carrier that opens from the front and top or that opens from the front and unclips easily to allow the entire top to come off so the cat can remain on her bedding in the bottom part.
  • Make your cat’s carrier part of the furniture. If the only time your cat sees a carrier is when he’s headed to the vet, he can’t relax inside. Leave the carrier out and place soft bedding inside. If your cat likes treats, give them to him inside the carrier. Spray Feliway liberally in the carrier. It’s kumbaya in a can.
  • Locate your cat the day before a veterinary visit and don’t let him out to disappear. Let the vet’s office know in advance that your cat is uncomfortable with veterinary visits so they can prepare.
  • If your cat has freaked out at the veterinary office before, ask your veterinarian for medication to calm your cat’s anxiety. If your cat becomes car sick, discuss a medication for that as well.
  • Make sure the carrier is belted safely into your car to minimize movement, and put a towel over the carrier to block the view.
  • Try to remain calm and positive. Your anxiety will make your cat’s worse.

A Final Note

If you have more than one cat, prevent post visit aggression by leaving the cat who’s been to the veterinarian in his carrier when you get home. Watch for problems. If all seems well, open the door to the carrier but don’t force your cat out and don’t force the cats to interact. Let time — and more Feliway — ease the stress of reintroduction.

This article was written by a Veterinarian.