Just about every cat owner knows how tough taking your kitty to the vet can be. From struggling to get it into a carrier to trying not let her run out of the office, there’s no question the whole experience can be a headache. But what if we told you this trip didn’t need to be a stressful one? We caught up with a few top cat experts who gave us some helpful hacks for making a cat’s visit to the vet easy as pie.
Get your cat comfy with a carrier.
Renowned cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy recommends creating a positive association with a carrier for your cat early on. One of the best ways to do this is to disassemble the carrier so that the roof and doors are gone and put a comfortable cat bed inside the open carrier. Then, sweeten the deal for your kitty. “Save your cat’s favorite treats for just getting in that one place,” Galaxy says. “So the only time they get that jackpot treat is when they’re in their carrier.”
After your fur baby has done this a few times, try re-assembling the carrier. Put the roof back on and see how your kitty reacts when he or she sees the change. Meanwhile, continue to reward your feline with treats whenever he or she goes inside. Keep repeating this method after you re-attach the door. While this method usually works best for young cats, Galaxy says you can also use it to train an older cat to see a carrier as a safe space. If your cat already decided the carrier is an awful place, you can experiment with other carriers with different shapes and features (e.g. one with a rounded shape rather than one with edges) until you find the perfect fit.
Be sure your vet is a “cat-friendly” vet.
According to cat behavior consultant Mikel Delgado, PhD, some vet offices are more trained than others when it comes to dealing with stressed kitties. Dr. Delgado recommends seeking out a vet that specifically advertises a cat-friendly practice or a certification in low-stress handling of pets. When you find a vet that fits the bill, make sure every visit doesn’t end with a shot or something unpleasant. “I encourage having friendly drop-ins at the vet’s office, maybe to pick up food or something,” Delgado says.
If your kitty is still jittery, you might consider asking the vet if medication might make the experience a calmer one. Some cats will simply handle treatment better after they’ve had anti-anxiety medication or even a sedative in cases of extreme stress (always ask the vet first before trying any of these meds, though!). But no matter what your cat’s situation is, Delgado says it’s important to be understanding. “The reason that cats freak out at the vet’s office is always fear,” she says. “They’re not trying to be dominant, they’re not jerks. They’re terrified for their lives. So it’s important to have empathy for them.”
Don’t limit your cat’s travel to vet appointments.
A lot of cat owners make the mistake of only using the carrier to go to the vet. “Most people keep their carrier in the back of a closet and it’s all dusty,” she says. “As soon as the cat sees the human go to that closet, they’re like, ‘Oh no.'” Galaxy also recommends leaving the carrier out in the open, even long after your cat gets accustomed to it. It’s also a good idea to keep using the carrier regularly so your kitty stays happy whenever he or she travels — whether it’s a trip to the vet or not.
You might take your kitty in the carrier for a quick car ride that has nothing to do with the vet, perhaps to drop off mail at the post office. Or if you don’t feel like driving, you can try carrying your pet around in the carrier inside your own home. (A super easy way to add some “sight-seeing” to your cat’s routine, if you ask us!) As Galaxy puts it: “If you knew that every time you got into a certain car that you were going to go to the doctor, you would start to dread that car. If they got into a carrier 50 times and 49 of them they didn’t go to the vet, it would still be a positive place.”