Reducing Cat Stress during Veterinary Visits

Anyone who has ever had a cat knows that you can’t force cats to do something they don’t want to do. So how do you convince your cat to like the veterinarian? If you’ve been around cats, you know they are more selective with their affection than dogs.

Who they choose to like, and when they choose to be affectionate, is 100% under a cat’s fickle control. While there is no love potion to bring out a cat’s affection, there are a few things you can do to improve the odds that your feline friend will at least tolerate the vet—even show affection if you and the veterinarian are very lucky.

Choose a cat friendly veterinarian
It may seem obvious, but pick a veterinarian that likes cats and is good with cats. This doesn’t mean it has to be a cat-only practice, but it does mean you want to pick a veterinarian that caters to cats. Some practices have separate lobbies for their dog and cat patients since many cats become anxious when surrounded by a lobby full of dogs. Even if the clinic doesn’t have a separate waiting area, some veterinarians will promptly place your cat in a quiet room if he appears anxious. Call ahead of time to find out what your vet does to accommodate nervous cats.

Stress is contagious and can spread to your cat
Another thing you can do to help your cat like your veterinarian is to curb your own anxiety. Many cat parents don’t realize this, but when they become nervous, their cats can sense it and become more anxious themselves. Remaining calm and speaking in a soothing voice can not only help relax your cat, but also help you stay in control of your emotions. So remember, while stress is contagious, peace and calm are too.

Bribing your cat
When it comes to public officials, bribery is frowned upon, but when it comes to your cat, there is nothing wrong with using a little bribery to entice him. The old saying that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar also applies to cats. Whenever you take your cat to the vet, make sure you reward him with his favorite treat to associate seeing the veterinarian with a positive experience. You can also ask your veterinarian to give your cat a treat; though many cats won’t eat, even their favorite treat, if they are stressed out. If that’s the case, try again when you get home.

See the veterinarian early and often
Old habits are hard to break. So why not develop good habits early? Take your kitten to the veterinarian while he’s still young and impressionable, and follow the tips above to make it a positive experience. Just like cats raised in a household with dogs, if they grow-up around something that might otherwise be scary, they won’t be afraid of it. Let your cat see the veterinarian early in life so when he grows-up, he might actually like the veterinarian (or at the very least tolerate her).

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Reviewed on:

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

At the veterinarian’s office

Keep your cat in their carrier. When you get to the vet and are in the waiting room, keep your cat in their carrier. Keep the carrier off the floor to make your cat feel more secure (and prevent curious dogs from peeking in and frightening your cat). With many people and animals in the same room, most cats will feel safer and less stressed in their carrier.

Schedule visits during slow times. When scheduling your cat’s next appointment, ask when their slow times are and try scheduling appointments when the vet clinic is less busy. This can help reduce the stress that your cat experiences before they even get into the exam room.

Bring something from home. An item in their carrier like a blanket from home can help bring your cat comfort while waiting to be seen. If your cat needs to spend a night at the vet, make sure to bring an item from home like their favorite blanket or toy to help them settle easier.

Consider medications and supplements. If your cat has a history of being stressed when visiting the vet or is still stressed after trying the steps above, chat with your veterinarian prior to your next appointment. They may be able to recommend medications and/or supplements that can help reduce your cat’s anxiety and allow them to do better with their vet visits.

Joyce A. Login, DVM

Dr. Login received her veterinary degree from The Ohio State University in 1988 and began her career practicing at a small animal hospital in New Jersey. She left private practice to work in the animal health corporate world and has had the opportunity to work for various animal health companies including Hill’s, Novartis and Bayer. In 2010, she joined Zoetis, and is currently the Veterinary Medical Lead supporting Pain, Oncology and Specialty products. She has a special interest in the areas of veterinary communication, pain, and vector-borne diseases.

How to Reduce Stress at the Vet

It is a well-known concern for all of us that some dogs, cats and owners are very stressful about coming to and being at the veterinary office.

We want to help you with this. If you know that you or your pet or yourself are stressed, please talk to your veterinarian and staff. We can help!

One of the things we love is to have you and your dog visit us whenever possible! It’s just a visit, with treats and love. Nothing happens. This can help create positive experiences at the clinic for your dog. The more visits your dog has here with treats and love, the less he/she will be stressed and full of anxiety for her medical visits.

You can desensitize your cat to the carrier by having it out all the time. Offer treats and food in the crate and make it a cozy place to sleep and lie down with the door open. They can help reduce stress for car rides and help with desensitization to new environments, places and other situations.

There are lovely pheromones available such as Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats. These are great to use starting at the puppy and kitten stages of life.

A lot of the time our pets can feed off of our anxieties. So if we as owners can be calm and relaxed, so can our pets.

Sometimes your veterinarian may suggest medications to help reduce anxiety and stress before an appointment. These medicines can help us trim nails on a dog that is afraid of having nails trimmed or relax a cat that is anxious for its exam. They help tremendously and allow your pet to have a stress free visit.

We have a fantastic website for you to look at. It is free to register, and you will get great information to help reduce stress for your pet! Check outВ

Please give us a call if you have any further questions or want to talk about how to reduce anxiety and stress at the veterinary office!

Removing the Fear and Anxiety From Your Cat's Vet Visits

Published: January 23, 2015

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Fear-Free Vet Visits - How Wonderful!

If you’re a cat lover, you should also love the new shift within the veterinary profession. It’s called the Fear Free movement - and it’s a movement that’s super important… and long overdue.

The Fear Free movement is a recognition (finally) that one of the greatest barriers that keeps cats from getting the veterinary evaluations and care they need isn’t the cost of veterinary care, nor the busy lives that pet owners lead (although both of these reasons certainly are contributing causes). Rather it’s the stress and anxiety that cats show, and the anxiety that their people anticipate and perceive, when undertaking a trip to the veterinarian’s office.

*Of course, another significant barrier to cats getting the care they need is a general misconception that cats are the “low maintenance” pets and they don’t actually need routine check-ups and care, which is untrue. But that’s a topic for another blog post… which just so happens to be here. But I digress.

The Fear Free principles are, in large part, based on the wonderful work of the late, great Dr. Sophia Yin, as well as Dr. Karen Overall, and a lot of other wonderful animal behaviorists, trainers, and veterinarians. Dr. Marty Becker has, along with others, taken up the mantle to educate about, promote, and further the principles of the Fear Free movement. And, as you would expect, he’s proving to be a great spokesperson and champion for the cause.

Now, while there are many things that we within the profession can be doing (and, in an increasing number of cases, are doing), there are also some simple things that you can be doing with your pets at home, both on a regular basis and in advance of a veterinary visit, to help ensure as peaceful an experience as possible… for everyone involved.

What To Do To Minimize Your Cat’s Stress When Going To The Vet

  • Every now and again, take your cat for a quick social visit to your vet’s office. No needles, no weight checks, and NO temperature taking… just some petting, socializing, and treating. Doing so can greatly help to prevent or break the association of the vet’s office with stress — especially if you start doing this when your cat is just a kitten.

Take out and get your cat’s carrier into their environment a few days prior to the trip to the vet. If practical and if it fits in with your home decor, consider leaving your cat’s carrier out in their environment on a daily basis, allowing them to explore, sleep, play, and maybe even eat in it. This way they won’t associate the carrier just with the trips to the vet. Check out these additional tips for making your cat carrier a cat-friendly place.

Spray Feliway, a calming pheromone for cats, into your cat’s carrier and on the seat in your car.

Use catnip or catnip oil (diluted) in your cat’s carrier. (Just be careful, as some cats can get extremely hyper on it!)

Leave yourself plenty of time to get to the vet’s. Aim to leave the house 10 minutes earlier than you think you’d need to get there, and prepare everything for your trip several hours in advance (the night before is great, if possible and practical). Not only will this help you minimize your own stress, but it’ll also help you drive safely and with minimal erratic stops and starts, which could otherwise contribute to your cat’s anxiety and car sickness.

Safely restrain your cat within the car for the trip to (and from) the vet’s office. This isn’t only a safety issue (for everybody), but it can also help your cat feel more secure and decrease the anxiety they may feel during car travel. Read other tips for decreasing travel anxiety (and car sickness) in pets here.

Book one of the earlier morning appointment slots with your vet, this way they’re less likely to be running behind and your wait will likely be minimized. (If your wait is to be delayed, and as long as it isn’t too hot or cold outside, consider waiting in the car with your cat until your vet’s team can put you directly into an exam room.)

Play calming music in the car on the way to the vet’s office. Either a Classical music station or CD, or a pet-specific calming CD, such as those in the Through A Cat’s Ear series.

For cats that get particularly stressed during trips to the vet, continue doing the above but also talk to your veterinarian about possible pre-visit medication options you can administer at home and also check to see if your vet does housecalls. Either or both of those may help diffuse the situation enough to allow even the most stressed kitty get the care they need and deserve.

If you have a dog, check out these dog-specific tips.

One last note and suggestion. This one is based not just on my experiences and observations within the clinic, but also on some early childhood experiences with my own routine medical care. When I was younger and my Mom would take me to the doctor for shots, blood draws, or anything else involving needles, I would have this automatic, almost instinctual fear of the trip and the procedures. The root cause of this struck me at some point as my Mom was literally squeezing the blood and feeling out of my hand during a shot.

You see, my Mom would always hold my hand whenever such procedures were being done to me, saying “just squeeze my hand if you get nervous or if it’s hurting.” One day I realized that it was her, not me initiating the hand squeezing (and BOY could she squeeze!). I, of course, read that cue as “my Mom is nervous about what’s happening, so it’s got to be bad and I too should be nervous.” Fortunately I’ve since reset and overcome that connection — of course, my Mother no longer holds my hand at the doctor either… which would just be weird if she did (I’m 41 years old, after all). The point though is this… in the process of trying to calm and reassure me, my Mother inadvertently heightened my anxiety and made matters worse.

I’ve seen similar situations time and time again in the veterinary hospitals in which I’ve worked. Well-intentioned and concerned pet owners triggering and reinforcing their cat’s anxiety with the procedures taking place. Often times — in fact, in the vast majority of the times — the pet’s anxiety and struggle disappears when the owner leaves the room or the pet is “taken to the back.” So that brings up one other thing you can consider doing to help minimize your pet’s distress at the vet… work to keep your own fears and anxieties down, and if that’s not possible, consider leaving the room or asking the veterinary team to bring your cat to the back for their procedures and treatments. Trust me… both the veterinary team AND your pet will understand, and they’ll likely both thank you for it, too.

Does your vet do anything specifically to help reduce your pet’s fear and anxiety during visits or hospital stays? Do you do any of the things above, or anything else, yourself to help reduce your pet’s vet visit fear and anxiety? We’d love to hear your thoughts and what’s working and not working for you and your pets. Please share in the comments section below. And, of course, please share these suggestions with any friends or family members who themselves, or their pets, dread going to the vet.

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Please do not ask emergency or other specific medical questions about your pets in the blog comments. As an online informational resource, Preventive Vet is unable to and does not provide specific medical advice or counseling. A thorough physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinary-patient-client relationship is required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet is having an emergency or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic medical conditions, please contact or visit your veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.

Please share your experiences and stories, your opinions and feedback about this blog, or what you've learned that you'd like to share with others.

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