Cat at Vet in Carrier

We know that wellness care for our pets saves lives and improves the quality of life by catching problems early. It also saves money. But while pet lovers are increasingly aware of these benefits, cats aren’t getting their fair share of care. It’s not because their owners don’t care about them, or don’t believe in the benefits of wellness care. 

It’s because many cats don’t like — and, in fact, will barely tolerate — a trip to the veterinarian.

We veterinarians know that, and it’s the reason why our clinics and hospitals are becoming ever more feline-friendly. I give talks to my colleagues on what I call “fear-free” practices, and The CATalyst Council is also spreading the word that cats deserve special handling at the vet's. But that's not enough.

How You Can Help

We can’t help much unless you do your part by bringing your cat in for a wellness exam. If you’ve been putting it off, here are some tips to make it easier on you, your cat — and those of us at your veterinary hospital.

Get the right carrier. Your cat needs to feel safe, and that’s most easily accomplished with a hard-sided carrier. The best ones have doors on the top and front to make putting the cat in easier. The top and bottom should also come apart easily; this way, the top can be removed at the veterinary office, leaving your cat comfortably resting in the bottom. A soft padded mat or folded towel will provide not only comfort but also secure footing so your cat won’t slide or scramble for purchase when the carrier is in motion.

Create a safe space. Once you have that carrier, don’t hide it in the basement or in the rafters of your garage. It needs to be part of the furniture so your cat can learn to be comfortable around it and in it. Take the door off, put a soft mat in and leave yummy treats inside. Feed your hungry cat in the carrier now and then: Take a spoonful of wet food on a small plate, heat it up a little in the microwave to make its smell more irresistible, and serve it in the carrier. All this will eliminate the association of the carrier with bad things, which makes many cats scat when the carrier comes out.

Spread a good scent. Cats make themselves feel better by rubbing pheromones on their surroundings, which they produce in special glands, most notably on their heads. They get their first introduction to the relaxing effect of these scents when they’re tiny babies, associating the special smell of their moms with nursing. In recent years synthetic versions of these pheromones have taken the veterinary world by storm, and I couldn’t be happier. I wear so much of the feline version, Feliway, that it’s like an aftershave for me. Spraying the mat inside the carrier with this product may help to relax an anxious cat.

Cover it up. Another place to spray pheromones is a towel that can be draped over the carrier. Even a calm cat may become freaked out by the view outside your home, by anything from the car to the waiting room with that dog staring. Covering the carrier with a towel — or, even better, one with pheromones on it — will block the view of the scary stuff and make your cat feel calm and safe.

Be gentle and secure en route. Give your cat a smooth ride. Keep the carrier level when you’re holding it, and secure it with a seat belt in your vehicle when you're not. A soft mat or towel can help keep your cat from sliding with any movement you cannot control. It wouldn’t hurt to drive a little more safely as well, so watch those jackrabbit starts and give the car ahead of you room so you don’t have to slam on the brakes. It’ll make the trip easier on your cat — and improve your gas mileage.

Once you get your cat to your veterinary hospital, the staff and doctors will do the rest! We’re working hard to make it easier for you to keep your cat healthier. If you do your part to get your cat in, we can take it from there.