It’s estimated that cats receive the benefit of an annual check-up and routine preventive care at only ~50% the rate of dogs. Part of the reason for this is the difficulty and stress many owners experience in physically getting their cats to a veterinary clinic. Since cats are masters at hiding chronic illness and pain, a yearly exam is needed to find some common but easily missed signs that a problem has begun.
There are some easy things people with cats can do in preparation for a planned visit to a vet clinic to lessen the overall unpleasantness.
- Set out a sturdy clean carrier at least 3 days in advance and leave the door open. Consider putting a small blanket or towel inside and sprinkling the floor with catnip or a few favorite treats to make it a nice place. A very treat-motivated cat could even be trained to go into the carrier to get a treat. If your cat voluntarily sits inside the carrier, consider briefly closing the door and immediately leaving it open again, just for practice.
- On the day of the appointment, get the cat into the carrier with treats or as gentle a handling technique as possible. Some cats will benefit from pretreating the carrier with a pheromone spray such as Feliway. Some cats are best at being put into a carrier backwards. Do NOT put on your coat, grab your purse or keys, or do anything else first that signals that you are leaving before accomplishing this.
- Cover 3/4 of the carrier, including the door, with a dark towel or blanket, so that only a small amount of scenery is visible to your cat.
- Do NOT bump the carrier against anything when walking with it. Keep it level. Stay quiet.
- At the clinic, check in with the carrier still in the car. If possible, go back to the car and have the staff call your cell phone to let you know when your exam room is ready. Skip the waiting room, and head into the quieter exam room. Do NOT bump the carrier against your leg, the wall, etc. Place the carrier on the floor and not right against the door.
- If a few minutes pass, fold the blanket back and open the carrier door allowing your cat to stay in or come out and explore. (Do NOT allow the cat out of the carrier if you know she/he will be hard to pick up due to stress and aggression in the clinic.) Do not force your cat to come out of the carrier.
- When checking out, avoid having the carrier on the floor with the door facing outward. Block your cat’s view of strangers, dogs, and other cats by having it covered again. Place the covered carrier completely up on a sturdy counter. Cats feel safer if elevated. If possible, leave the carrier in the empty exam room while you settle charges at the front desk.
There are individual cats who experience so much stress with veterinary visits that they really benefit from and require sedation at the clinic in order to have a safe and thorough exam. These cats should arrive at the clinic in a carrier with a removable top. Experienced staff can then remove the top, place a towel completely over the cat, administer an injectable sedative, and leave the cat in the carrier in a dark quiet exam room until the desired sedation is achieved. For a few cats this is the most humane exam experience. Less severely affected cats may do fine with an oral sedative given at home prior to scheduled visits.