The stress and worry associated with a vet visit for cats can be a big problem when the time for an annual health check rolls around – and if our cats hate going to the vet then it can be daunting for them to stay in hospital if they are sick.
It’s sadly common for cat owners to put off the annual vet visit because their cat gets stressed, upset or aggressive at the vet clinic.
As a result, clinics tend to see fewer cats than dogs at the hospital, and this really isn’t a great thing. Annual health checks are important to vaccinate your cat against nasty diseases like feline panleukopaenia, and also to check in with your cat every 12 months to make sure all is well. Small and gradual changes like weight loss, lumps and dental disease are easy to miss at home, and they can turn into big problems if they get left to develop for too long.
Cats in general are very averse to change in their lives – new experiences can stress them out, and coming to the vet is about as big an interruption to a cat’s daily life as it gets. Cats get piled into small carriers, taken on noisy car trips, packed into loud waiting rooms with dogs and strange cats and then poked and prodded by the vet! It’s really understandable why some cats shut down out of fright, and some get downright upset and start trying to bite.
While no vet visit will ever be stress free for a cat (thermometers and needles are never pleasant) there are ways we can make things less stressful for our cats when that time of year rolls around again.
Carriers: Seeing the carrier once a year means our cats learn to associate its appearance with something nasty. Getting kitty used to the carrier as part of the furniture can be an important first step in making the vet trip smoother. Leave the carrier out in the house – with the door off, if possible – and encourage your cat to use it. Leave blankets in it so kitty can use it as a bed, stash toys in to encourage play… and always have some tasty cat treats on hand to reward kitty when you see them in the carrier so they associate the carrier with something yummy!
Car trips: The car can be pretty disorienting for cats – cars are loud and they move in unpredictable ways. Unlike dogs, cats usually only spend time in the car if they’re going to the vet or to the cattery, and these are usually fairly stressful.
It’s worth taking kitty for a trip around the neighbourhood occasionally in the car – a quick spin around the block, then home for a cuddle and a yummy treat, to show kitty that the car isn’t always scary.
The waiting room: This one’s up to us! While we have a large waiting room to accommodate your pets, we do like to try to keep cats and dog's separated. Try to sit away from the main door so your cat doesn't have to see every dog who walks in the door, or alternatively ask the nurses if you're able to use a spare consult room whilst you wait.
The Vet: Even with all the desensitisation and care in the world, some cats just don’t like being poked at. Think about it – we’re asking cats to hold still, in a room that smells weird, while we open their mouths, put cold stethoscopes on their chests, poke their tummies, and put thermometers in some very sensitive areas… and that’s just a routine physical! Blood tests, X-rays, urine sampling and other tests can be even more stressful, and a stay in hospital for surgical procedures very trying indeed.
If you feel that your cat isn’t coping with the stress of vet visits or with hospital, talk to your vet. We have all kinds of tricks for cats that get worried when they see us – feline pheromone sprays to combat the weird smells at the vet, fluffy towels for when a “kitty burrito” is needed, and even medications.
Recent studies have provided us with a selection of excellent short-term anti-anxiety medications for cats that can be given before a vet visit to relax kitty and make the experience more comfortable for everyone – yourself included!
Short-term anti-anxiety drugs can be used for hospital patients who need to spend more time with us than the average vet visit, but we have other ways of keeping our hospital stress-free for cats. We have a designated ward for cats so they can avoid spending time with our canine patients, and specially designed “hidey boxes” in the ward cages so cats can hide out of sight when they get worried. We also have a special cat pheromone diffuser to make the cat ward smell less like us and more like them.