Preparing Your Cat for a Trip to the Veterinarian

By Tammy Hunter, DVM; Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

Even though cats are traditionally independent creatures, you are the most important person in your cat’s world. Next to you, the second most important person in a cat’s life is the veterinarian. These animal doctors have two major goals: to keep animals healthy for as long as they can and to care for them when they become ill. Pretty simple, right?

Keeping your cat healthy requires exercise, proper nutrition, and consistent medical care. Your veterinarian can help you with all three components of your cat’s healthy lifestyle. Since you and your cat will make many trips to the veterinary hospital over the years, it is best to start preparing your kitty for these visits as soon as possible.

What type of carrier is best?

To keep both you and your cat safe for the trip to the animal hospital, always place your kitty in a cat carrier. Select a carrier that can be opened from the top or from the front. Ideally, you should be able to remove the top half to allow easy access to your cat while maintaining his sense of safety in the bottom half. For cat owners who live within walking distance of the veterinary clinic, there are clever cat strollers with ventilated kitty carriers built in that make transportation easy and fun.

How do I get my cat used to going inside the carrier?

Cats like snuggly confined areas, so they learn to tolerate carriers easily when introduced properly. Cats prefer a carrier that smells familiar and reassuring. It is best to have the carrier out at all times so it becomes a place where your cat can sleep and eat on a regular basis. Line the carrier with a soft towel or your cat’s favorite blanket. Offer your cat yummy treats or toys in the carrier at home regularly to help your cat become more comfortable with the carrier.

"It is best to have the carrier out at all times so it becomes a place where your cat can sleep and eat on a regular basis."

What if my cat still doesn’t want to go inside the carrier?

If your cat is still hesitant to breach the carrier’s door, gently nudge him inside from behind. If he resists, remove the top of the carrier, lie him down on the towel, and replace the top. Keep calm if your cat panics at the sight of the carrier, as he will detect your stress. Keep the carrier close, but out of your cat’s sight and wrap your cat in a thick towel or blanket that smells familiar. Put your cat and the towel into the carrier quickly but gently. You can spray this towel or blanket as well as your car with a calming synthetic pheromone (Feliway®) 15 minutes before your cat goes inside the carrier to help minimize stress.

My cat finds traveling in the carrier very stressful and I’m worried it will make him too stressed for the appointment. Can anything be done to help him feel calmer?

When you schedule your appointment, ask your veterinarian or veterinary team about calming supplements or medications that can help your cat be more relaxed during the visit. Gabapentin is a commonly used medication and is proven to reduce stress levels in cats that visit the vet clinic. Even cats that appear calm can be internally anxious and, if not addressed, anxiety can increase with each visit, leading to your cat becoming aggressive as a means to escape, or your cat developing vomiting or diarrhea. These medications and supplements have minimal to no adverse effects and can result in a better experience for your cat.

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