how to make your cat's trip to the vet less stressful

beautiful white cat at the veterinarian |  How to reduce cat vet visit stress
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Jun 08 2011

Updated February 21, 2019

As a veterinarian, I recommend annual exams for all pets, including cats. As a cat pet parent, however, I recognize that taking a cat to the vet is much easier said than done.

I hear it all the time from owners, and I have experienced it myself: that darn cat has ESP! Or she hears me talk about her upcoming visit to the clinic, because when that day rolls around, she is absolutely nowhere to be found!

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So, cat owners, I feel your pain. I know how frustrating it is when your cat sits just out of arm’s reach under the bed or disappears at the sight of the dreaded carrier. And I totally believe you when you tell me that you swear she is “quite a nice cat at home” even though she is trying to claw my eyes out as you say it.

How to make vet visits easier for your cat

Going to the vet is stressful for most cats. And for most cats, the only time they even see their carrier is if they are going to the vet, so their natural instinct is to avoid it at all costs. It is as if they grow four additional legs and employ them all to brace against the carrier door in an attempt to avoid getting stuffed in there! And then there’s the drive to the vet, with poor Fluffy howling the whole time!

Do not lose hope, though. Even if your cat is one of “those” cats, there are things you can do to ease the stress a bit. If your cat is still very young, starting now will make your life easier for years to come.

Habituate your cat to the carrier

In a blinded, randomized controlled trial by Dr. Lydia Pratsch and colleagues at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, 11 cats were trained to use a carrier, while 11 cats were in a control group that was not trained. All 22 cats had a mock visit to the vet. The results of the study showed cat carrier training reduces stress

Don’t hide it in the basement or attic and only bring it out for those scary car trips to the vet. Put it in a prominent place so that your cat gets used to it. Feed her around or even in the carrier, so that she associates the carrier with pleasant outcomes.

Once your cat is used to the carrier, take her to the vet just to visit.

If the only time you went somewhere, you got poked and prodded, you’d certainly want to avoid it! Have the technicians give your cat treats while you hang out for five or ten minutes. Again, it’s all about convincing your cat that the vet can be a pleasant experience!

Finally, if your cat is really stressed out by the prospect of going to the vet...

Consider the use of feline pheromone sprays.

Spraying a towel and putting it in the carrier for your cat to ride with can ease her worries.

Yearly vet visits are so important to the health of your cat. Please don’t let her anxiety prevent you from bringing her in for a health check – it just may save her life. And please don’t be embarrassed by your cat’s behavior.

In most cases, we’ve seen cats with far worse behavior than yours (I have the scars to prove it!). If all else fails, remember that giving Fluffy a prescribed tranquilizer can help everyone’s nerves. Ask your veterinarian what he or she recommends for your scaredy cat’s next visit.

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