Stress Free Cat Visits
By Dr. Lindsay Lane, Managing Veterinarian
How many of you wake up in the morning and with a smile on your face say “I can’t wait to take my cat to the vet today!” Not many? Well don’t worry, you are not alone! We can’t tell you how many times we hear owners tell us that their cats don’t need to come to the vet, or that they hate bringing them because it’s too stressful. After all, they don’t make it easy on us! Trying to “wrangle” them as soon as you bring that carrier out, or you can forget about trying to squeeze them into the carrier with all four paws extended using some spectacular ninja moves. Let alone them singing you the sad songs of their people on their way to the vet, and let’s not forget the “presents” they so gracefully leave behind in the carrier! It can be quite unpleasant for owner and kitty, we know!! So, here are some tips to try to enhance the vet experience and improve it for ALL involved (selfishly us too!) because we do want to see your feline friends at least once a year for even a general check-up.
As I just mentioned above, we do want to see our patients at least once a year for a general checkup. This is true even if they aren’t due for any vaccines, as conditions with the heart, eyes, weight, kidneys etc. can change in a short amount of time, and sometimes objectively measuring these things (weight, heart rate, respiratory rate etc.) can pick up significant changes that could indicate something else is going on! I always tell my cat clients that they are the “great pretenders” of the universe, meaning some cats will never show a sign of illness to you at home until unfortunately its sometimes too late or they are VERY sick. So, these yearly check-ups can be important to monitor any subtle changes. Depending on your cat’s age too, we might recommend blood-work to help assess their health.
For those cats who are just generally hard to catch at home when it’s time to go to the vet I recommend you bring that carrier out about a week in advance if possible, to let them get used to its presence. Place a cozy blanket in there and even some catnip to attract them to it! I also use and recommend feliway spray to use on carriers or places you want your cat to feel relaxed. You can feed them inside their carrier or give treats in it too. This helps the carrier to become more of a regular/familiar space that can be comforting, rather than the “alien spaceship” that is used to remove them from their comfy homes to the place w/ barking dogs and needles and such! The feliway, catnip and/or treats can also be used in the carrier for travel to help reduce your cat’s stress. If your cat just isn’t feeling/trusting the carrier even after all you have tried, I recommend placing the cat in a smaller room to make it easy to catch them for when it is time to leave for your appointment. I would absolutely still use feliway in your carrier regardless if it draws them inside or not – it may still help calm them for the ride and visit!
Sometimes we have those cats who regardless of any aromatherapy, music etc. owners try to use and calm them, they just still get so extremely stressed; panting, vocalizing, urinating, vomiting etc. No one likes to see their pet so upset, and we don’t either!! Guess what people, we have WONDERFUL pharmaceuticals for just such occasions!! My favorite sedative for cats is gabapentin and there is a very large dose range we can use for anxious cats up to fractious kitties. There is also trazadone or less commonly used nowadays, acepromazine. All of these medications can help reduce your cat’s reactivity and therefore stress response, making their vet visit so much improved and informative. Yes, they will be sedated, but they will not be so stressed that we see all of those emissions listed above!! Sometimes for extremely fractious cats where the medications listed above are either contraindicated because of a health concern or haven’t worked in the past, we will move to injectable or inhalation anesthesia, where we essentially have to completely anesthetize the cat in order to do any type of physical or diagnostics. These are rare, but they do happen however most veterinarians will have you try an oral medication to give at home prior to your appointment. Once your pet is here, we always try to use quiet and calming handling techniques to minimize any unnecessary stress/anxiety; we can use towels, feliway on our tables/towels and low stress handling/restraint for blood draws, vaccines etc.
Bottom line, we want and need to see your cats yearly! If you are concerned about how stressed your pet will be, give us a call! We can go over a plan and possible medication/sedative recommendations for each individual case. And if it’s just not in the cards for your pet to travel, there are mobile veterinarians who can come to you! We are just a phone call away and are happy to improve the experience both you and your cat have when you take them to the vet.