How to Get Your Nervous Cat to the Vet
STRAIGHT TO THE POINT: Many cats turn into total monsters when you try to put them in their carrier. These behaviors can be combatted by natural supplements, the slow creation of positive associations, and sometimes pharmaceutical interventions.
There are a handful of cats that, despite showing up fairly often on my schedule, I rarely see. In fact, one of my favorite kitty families has a feral-‘ish’ sibling that I have never actually met – and it is not for lack of trying.
Most indoor cats live a pretty isolated life. It is not surprising that many react poorly to sudden attempts at removing them from their known environment. This is why a large percentage of indoor kitties do not receive appropriate veterinary care and why cats are underrepresented in veterinary medicine when compared to their canine siblings.
Believe me, I get it. I completely understand how hard it can be. The shredded shirt-sleeves, scratches and puncture wounds are proof that you really are trying to get your kitty seen. In fact, I have struggled with my own cat at times. That is why I am here with some advice and tricks for getting your furr-ocious feline to the vet.
Take a Deep Breath
My first piece of advice sounds simple, but may actually be the most difficult on the list. Take a deep breath and try to approach your pet in a calm manner. Cats are incredibly intuitive by nature. Given that kitty spends a majority of his time with you, he is likely more aware of your emotional state than you realize. Meaning? If you are stressed, chances are your kitty is too.
So take a deep breath. Put on some soothing tunes. Take a few deep breaths and try not to stress. Worst case scenario, you have to abort this attempt – appointments can be rescheduled, your vet will understand. Allow yourself enough time to get your furry friend into his carrier so that you are not worried about being late to your appointment.
Give Yourself Plenty of Time
It is important to give yourself adequate time to familiarize your cat with their carrier. The time to introduce your kitty to the idea of going into a carrier or traveling in the care is NOT 15 minutes before their scheduled appointment. Instead, give yourself days or weeks to familiarize him with the changes.
For example, bring down the carrier several days or even weeks prior to the scheduled appointment or travel date. Leave the door open but otherwise ignore it. Kitty cats are pretty darn observant, and chances are it won’t go unnoticed for long. Let your cat explore the carrier on his own, as forcing acceptance can reinforce negative associations. Instead, work to create positive associations.
Create a Positive Association
Chances are, if you have previously struggled to get your cat into the carrier, he has developed negative associations that further support his fear. This is why it is important to break these negative associations and create new, positive associations.
As described above, when you first introduce the carrier, let your cat explore it on his own. After he has gotten over his initial startle, you can work on creating positive associations. Does your kitty have a favorite treat? Scatter that treat in the vicinity of the carrier, and work your way up to offering it inside of the carrier. Don’t attempt to trick your cat and close the door behind him, as this will reinforce negative associations.
It may take days, but eventually your kitty will begin to feel more comfortable around his carrier. Continue to create these positive associations. Consider feeding in the carrier. Perhaps you can have a daily petting session while sitting on top of the carrier. And again, don’t be stingy with the treats.
Try Natural Supplements and Interventions
There are many over the counter products aimed at reducing stress in pets. A mainstay of managing stress in cats is Feliway – a feline facial pheromone analogue. This means that it is a man-made version of the substance your cat deposits when he rubs his cheek on something. The smell tells the cat he is in a safe place and can be used to make a new place or situation “feel” more familiar and safe for cats.
Another over the counter option to try are supplements which includes stress reducing milk protein compounds. Zylkene contains bovine-sourced hydrolyzed milk protein, which is an ingredient that has calming properties in animals.
Solliquin is a whey protein supplement, also containing L-theanine, Magnolia and Phellodendron extracts. It has been shown to reduce anxiety in cases of noise phobias, travel anxiety, urine marking, and fear of humans. It is a flavored chew so may be good for finicky cats, but should be avoided in pets with dietary allergies.
Consider a ‘Chill Pill’
If the above solutions do not cut it, don’t despair. Even if you cannot get your pocket panther into the vet’s office, your doctor may be able to prescribe a medication that has anxiety reducing effect. Why some medications can only be administered in the veterinary office, there are some medications that your veterinarian can dispense for home use.
I often prescribe a medication called gabapentin. This medication can be used as an anti-convulsant, but more recently has been utilized in cats for fear aggression and to facilitate handling in hospital. While I am unable to provide dosing instructions without a valid veterinarian-patient relationship, your local veterinarian can.