How Do I Teach My Kitten to Like the Veterinarian?
Q. I have a new kitten — how can I get her to be happy about going to the veterinarian?
A. While we’ve long recognized the importance of socialization and training for puppies, we tend to let kittens grow up on their own without any specific socialization. That’s a shame, and is another sign of the second-class treatment we often reserve for cats, even though they’re more popular than dogs as pets.
Part of the reason for this treatment is the pervasive idea that cats are “independent” and “self-sufficient.” While it’s true that cats seem to cross more easily than dogs over the line between feral and domesticated, it’s also true that for a cat to have a good life as a companion, socialization simply cannot be neglected.
This is especially true when it comes to learning to enjoy — or at least tolerate — regular trips to the veterinarian, both for treatment as needed and, especially, for all-important preventive care.
Teach Your Kitten to Love Her Carrier
With kittens, socialization is all about linking new experiences with rewards, such as petting and praise. Start by getting your kitten accustomed to her carrier. Leave it out as part of the furniture (don’t put it in the rafters of the garage) so your kitten gets used to seeing it as part of her surroundings. Once your kitten is comfortable being around the carrier, feed her in the carrier with the door open, and then with the door closed.
Once your kitten is OK with being in her crate with the door closed, pick it up gently and gradually allow your youngster to get used to the sensation of movement. Again, treats and praise will go a long way toward helping this process along. I am also a strong believer in the use of synthetic pheromones to calm skittish cats; these are chemicals that mimic those produced by a mother cat to calm her kittens. These are widely available now, and can be sprayed on a towel that is placed in the carrier. Short, round-trip car rides can follow, with a towel over the carrier to reduce potentially alarming visual input. If possible, use seat belts to strap the carrier into place and help minimize jostling.
Ask Your Veterinarian's Staff for Help
When you’re ready to go to the veterinary office, talk to the staff to make sure they are prepared to help you make your kitten’s first visit a good one. Veterinarians and veterinary technicians are also skilled at handling your kitten in ways that are comforting and supportive — or they should be. The staff at your vet's office will be happy to help comfort your kitten — for example, when I see cats and kittens, I wear those pheromones like aftershave, in order to help keep my patients calm and happy during the exam.
By preparing your kitten in advance and working with your veterinary hospital, you should be able to set your kitten up for a life of good health, with easier trips to the veterinarian on a regular basis.