Have you been frustrated seeing your cat run and hide when you bring out your carrier? Have you had to search high and low for a scared cat? Perhaps you've even had to cancel an appointment because your cat had other ideas about riding in a carrier?
Believe it or not, the carrier doesn't have to be a scary item for your cat. Here are some tips to help reduce carrier fear and other suggestions for making the trip to the vet less stressful for everyone.
The best tip is to not hide the carrier in a closet or other storage space, only bringing it out when it's time to go to the vet. The carrier then becomes something associated with a stressful and scary experience. Instead of buying cat furniture and cubbyholes, leave the carrier out in the normal living spaces, open and inviting. Put a piece of clothing belonging to the cat's favorite human into the carrier. If your cat has a favorite toy he or she likes to chase, throw it into the open carrier while playing, so the cat can chase it in -- and get back out again with no problems. If your kitty is food motivated, put his or her favorite treats in the carrier too.
Just before you put the kitty in the carrier, you can spray the carrier with Feliway, a synthetic feline pheromone (available through your veterinarian) which helps the cats feel secure. It's also a good idea not to feed your cat just before a trip to the vet. This helps prevent upset stomach from car sickness and also will help if your cat needs any blood work done during the vet visit.
All these tips help to reduce the stress of the carrier, but it won't eliminate them. Clients of ours who use these tricks still have crying cats once the carrier door is closed. However, their cats don't always run as soon as the carrier is moved.
If your cat still runs and hides, here are a few other tips to help gather the cat for the trip. Try to corral the cat in a small room with few hiding spaces. Bathrooms are usually good for this. If your cat runs into a room, close the door so you don't have a Keystone Kop routine on your hands chasing the cat around the house. While it is never fun, don't be afraid to gently pull your cat out from under furniture if necessary. Try using a towel to gather up your cat instead of your bare hands to make sure you don't get hurt. Also, since towels are frequently used in veterinarian offices, having one that smells like home instead of the vet's office could help reduce stress while there.
It would seem logical to simply forgo the carrier altogether and travel without one. While there are exceptions to the rule, you should always use a carrier when bringing the cat into the veterinarian's office. This is for everyone's safety. When cats go to the vet, they are usually anxious and scared and will often use their claws to get out of your hands, or even to hold on tighter, which can result in serious injury to you. In addition, cats can sometimes become aggressive in defense when feeling frightened and may even bite.
Controlling your cat's exposure to other cats that are also scared and/or ill is another good reason to keep your cat confined while in the veterinarian's lobby. Keeping your cat away from other cats and off the floor will help decrease all the cats' stress levels and exposure to illnesses.
The proper type of carrier can help give your cat a safe haven during any travel or vet trip. Cats like to hide out in a sheltered space while still being able to see what's going on around them. Make sure your carrier has plenty of viewing spaces for your cat to see out of - mesh on the soft bags or grate doors on the plastic ones seem to work well. Additionally, carriers that have top access via zippered openings or doors, or carriers that come apart easily to allow easy access to your cat can reduce the stress from pulling them out of the carrier.
Once your cat is in the exam room, let the veterinarian and technician take your cat from the carrier and do all of the handling. Even the sweetest cat at home can become frightened and aggressive at the vet's office. This is perfectly normal behavior. Your veterinarian and her staff have been trained to interpret and anticipate this type of reaction from the cat and are best suited to prevent emotional trauma and physical injury of everyone.
While it can be a stress filled experience for both your cat and you, it is important to bring your cat to the veterinarian for regular semi-annual wellness exams, and not wait until he or she is sick. So many conditions can be treated much more effectively, if not outright cured, when caught early. The short term stress of the visit is far outweighed by the benefit of regular, preventative care.