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Easing Your Cat’s Visits to the Veterinarian

young female veterinary professional holding a cat

Visiting the veterinarian is an essential part of any cat’s life. Beginning from a young age, it’s critical that your feline friend goes for a check-up every year. Though these appointments don’t occur frequently, it’s possible that your cat may still experience anxiety during their visit. Learn more about why your cat may be feeling stressed, how you can help them feel more comfortable, and tips for transporting your cat to the veterinarian.

Why Is My Cat Scared of the Veterinarian?

Whenever it’s time to take your cat to the veterinarian, pay attention to their behavior—they may be displaying signs of anxiety. These symptoms can include increased vocalization, having accidents outside of the litterbox, swatting or nipping, getting sick, and hiding away from people. You may also want to pay attention to your cat’s body language. Chances are, if they are feeling nervous, they will display body language such as lowered ears, darting eyes, stiff posture, and their tail may be flicking quickly.

Just as there are many signs of anxiety, there can also be multiple causes. For instance, your cat may begin getting stressed out before you even leave your home. If you are running around trying to catch them, picking them up when they don’t want to be, and then putting them in their carrier (which they may or may not like), these can each cause your cat’s mood to turn for the worse. Not to mention, if you are running late and, as a result, are feeling anxious and stressed, your cat will undeniably catch onto those feelings and most likely begin feeling that way themselves.

The next part of your journey is driving to the veterinarian’s office. Although car rides can be fun or soothing for some animals, if your cat never goes for rides or is prone to motion sickness, your commute can further affect their mood, leading to more anxiety.

Is this your cat’s first veterinary visit? Learn how to prepare for the appointment and what you can expect for this first check-up.

Once you are at the veterinarian’s clinic, there are still many new experiences that can cause your cat to be scared: a new, loud, hectic environment, different people and animals, and unfamiliar smells. During your cat’s examination, it can be scary for them to be out of their carrier, handled by people they don’t know, and given shots that may leave a little pinch.

Numerous elements can raise any cat’s anxiety level when visiting the veterinarian. When all of these things occur at once, it’s no wonder so many cats can become stressed, nervous, and anxious—similar to how people get a knot in their stomach before their doctor appointments. However, just as people have learned ways to control their anxiety, pet parents have many options to help their cats with theirs.

gray cat being examined by male veterinary professional

How Do I Make My Cat Less Scared of the Veterinarian?

There are many ways to go about easing your cat’s veterinary anxiety. Though it will be a process that requires some time, patience, and persistence, the result of your cat being comfortable at the veterinarian is incredibly rewarding.

  • Get them comfortable with their carrier
    There’s a good chance that your cat only uses their carrier when they visit the veterinarian. This means your cat will begin to associate their carrier as a reason to be stressed. A wonderful way to help your pal become comfortable with their carrier is to leave it sitting in a common space, not stored away. Keep the door open and place a cozy blanket or towel inside. You can encourage your feline friend to go in and out of the carrier as they please, plus you can leave them treats or fun toys inside.

    As your cat becomes more comfortable, try taking them for short ventures in their carrier—just a walk around the house or out to the mailbox and back. This can show your cat that they have nothing to fear from their carrier.
  • Practice going for car rides
    Most cats spend a majority of their lives in their homes—after all, that is where they are most comfortable and safe. With that in mind, anytime your cat is taken into the great outdoors, it can be overwhelming.

    Following the same pattern as their carrier, if your cat only ever goes for car rides when they visit their veterinarian, then they begin getting anxious the moment they get in the car. To help with this, take your cat for short car rides periodically. Whether it’s just a quick trip around the neighborhood or they can join you as you pick up some food from a drive-thru, over time, your cat can begin to realize that car rides aren’t something to fear.

    Whenever your cat is joining you in the car, never leave them unattended and keep the vehicle at a comfortable temperature (without a vent blowing directly on them). Be sure your cat stays in their carrier for the entire ride and place the carrier in a secure spot inside the car. Also, try to limit your erratic driving tactics so that your feline friend has a smooth ride.
  • Have a plan for the waiting room
    Overstimulation can be a major trigger for anxiety when your cat is in the veterinarian’s waiting room. New people, cats, dogs, sounds, sights, and smells can all be present. You may find that covering your cat’s carrier or sitting further away from the others may be enough to help keep your cat calm. However, you know what’s best for your cat and if they aren’t ready to be in a waiting room for an extended time, ask the receptionist if you can wait outside or in your car.
  • Do practice check-ups at home
    At most check-ups, your veterinarian will handle your cat’s tail, paws, ears, and mouth. If your cat is not used to people touching them, or isn’t even a fan of being picked up, then getting an examination from a stranger will not go over the best.

    A great way to manage this anxiety is to perform practice check-ups at home. Desensitize your cat by occasionally picking them up, handling their paws, and gently touching their belly or tail. You can reward your cat with a little treat after they let you check them out without any hissing or paw swatting.
  • Don’t punish bad behavior
    Even if you have been working on anxiety-reducing techniques, it may take a handful of appointments before your cat becomes less anxious. Until then, to express their anxiety, your feline friend may display some unwanted behaviors such as swatting, hissing, or having an accident. Though you may be tempted to reprimand this bad behavior, it’s best if you do not punish your cat for being scared, as this could make things worse. Instead, remain someone who your cat can turn to for comfort.
  • Give many rewards
    Through each step of the process, from getting in the carrier to being in the examination room, continue to reward your cat, reassuring them that everything is okay and that they are doing a great job. If your pal is food motivated, bring along a little bag of treats or food. Continue to use soothing tones to reassure your cat and provide gentle pets or ear scratches.

Taking an anxious cat to the veterinarian, learning how to get your cat ready for the veterinarian, and putting a cat in a carrier safely are all tasks that cat parents should become familiar with. Plus, working on socialization throughout your cat’s life can also play a significant role in managing their anxiety in social settings. If you believe that your feline friend’s anxiety level has become so high that medication is the best treatment option, talk with your veterinarian and hear their professional opinion. However, it’s crucial that you never give your cat any human medication as there could be deadly consequences.

If you will be taking another form of transportation (besides driving yourself) to your cat’s veterinary visit, it could be helpful to read up on tips for commuting with your cat.

It should not be overlooked that a great way to reduce the stress of your cat’s veterinary visits is to keep your nerves relaxed. Cats are intelligent and perceptive creatures that can pick up on their parents’ moods. If you begin feeling hectic getting ready for your cat’s appointment or become stressed once there, your cat will most likely pick up on your mood. Instead, try to stay calm and positive, showing your cat that they do not need to be anxious.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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