Cats are notoriously cautious, even nervous, in new or unfamiliar situations. Hence the phrase "fraidy cat." That trait might make for entertaining cat videos, but it can turn your annual veterinary visit into a traumatic ordeal for you, your cat and your veterinary team. Because your cat's well-being is important to both you and your veterinarian, it's important to work together to create a less stressful vet visit. Your vet has probably given you tips for preparing for a less stressful visit, and now there is a movement among veterinarians to help create fear-free veterinary visits.
Why Less Fear Is Important
Aside from the obvious reason—that you hate to see your feline friend stressed out—fear can have other negative effects on the office visit.
- A fearful cat is more likely to bite, scratch or escape—possibly causing injury to itself, you or staff.
- Fear and stress will affect the physical exam and skew lab results.
- Less stress will help make future visits less traumatic.
What You Can Do
There are things you can do to make veterinary visits easier on your kitty. The biggest reason for your cat's anxiety is the unfamiliarity of people, places and things involved in a veterinary visit, and the fear involved in transportation there. Make sure to transport your cat in a hard-sided crate, preferably one in which the top is removable. This makes it easier to get your cat in and out.
At first, your cat will likely balk at going in the crate. Make it a safe haven where they want to spend time by keeping it near where your cat spends most of their time. Place a favorite toy or blanket inside, and entice them in with treats.
Once your furry friend is used to the crate, get them used to car travel by taking them on increasingly longer trips. Ask your veterinarian if you can bring your cat in for a practice visit. Let them walk around (on a leash) to check out the place and meet people. This familiarity will make the next visit less stressful.
On the day of the vet visit, make sure your cat arrives hungry. They will be much easier to make friends with and manipulate with treats. They'll be more likely to associate vet visits with a positive experience.
What Your Vet Can Do
Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, has begun a program called the Fear-Free Movement, in which he challenges veterinarians to provide less-stressful veterinary visits. In an article in Veterinary Practice News, Dr. Becker offers tips on how to make a pet's veterinary visit more of a positive experience. For example, veterinarians can:
- Avoid prolonged stays in the waiting area by proper scheduling, sufficient private exam rooms or allowing owners to check in, then wait in the car until called.
- Let the cat acclimate to the exam room before entering the room.
- Consult with the owner and observe the cat to determine the best method of examining the animal. Often the floor or owner's lap is less stressful than restraining an animal on a slippery, cold, hard examining table.
- Use small-gauge needles and alternate methods of delivery (nasal or oral) for vaccines and medications.
- Use a calm voice and soothing actions. Avoid sudden movements, bright lights and loud noises. Treat good behaviors.
Discuss with your veterinarian these and any other methods that might help make a fear-free (or fear-reduced) veterinary visit. It's in the best interest of you, your cat, and therefore your veterinarian. Contact a veterinary office like Loving Care Animal Hospital to talk to a vet for more information.