The scare of care begins at home for many cats. Being shoved into a carrier and taken on an unwanted car ride causes stress levels to rise and often become overwhelming before the cat ever sets paw inside the exam room.

That cumulative unease and upset have a detrimental effect on the cat’s ability to remain calm during a veterinary exam or treatment. High stress levels can interfere with the ability to examine the cat, obtain accurate readings and provide care.

When distress goes into overdrive, cats can be dangerous to themselves and to caregivers, as well as their beloved humans. Even the most laidback cat can explode into a frenzied fight to break free if frightened by handling or a procedure.

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way, nor should it be. Fear Free certified professionals are dedicated to improving the emotional experience of cats during veterinary care. In the endeavor to decrease feline stress and promote a relaxed demeanor at the veterinary clinic, the cat’s human family is key to success. Preparation by a cat’s caretakers in partnership with complementary efforts by the Fear Free certified veterinary team can positively affect the cat’s emotional experience, fostering a contented and calm attitude throughout the veterinary visit.

Replace a cat’s uncertainty toward veterinary visits with a more positive purr’spective by conditioning him to remain calm using these emotionally protective strategies:

Purr’niture

Rather than a torture device or entrapment container, invite cats to view a carrier or crate as a piece of “purr’niture” where they enjoy lounging and hanging out. The more comfortable cats are relaxing in the carrier at home, the more likely they are to go in when it’s time for the vet visit.

Purr’fume

If cats used words to communicate their feelings, it wouldn’t be a far feline stretch to say they’d express Dorothy’s mantra “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home,” especially when they wind up in an unfamiliar situation that feels, smells, and looks nothing like home. Cats enjoy predictability and familiarity. Lighten the fear by bringing the familiar with your cat when he travels beyond the walls of his living space. One way to do so is by bringing the scent of home as well as your cat’s own signature “purr’fume” with him wherever he goes. Place items on which the cat has rested, such as a towel, item of clothing, or blanket, inside the cat’s carrier. If you know you’ll be leaving the cat at the hospital for a procedure, plan ahead. Place a towel or t-shirt in areas where your cat likes to nap to get his scent on the item. Then leave this with the cat throughout the stay (be sure to leave something you don’t mind losing, as items are easily lost in a busy clinic setting). You can also comfort your cat by spritzing calming pheromones inside the carrier 10 to 15 minutes before the cat enters it. This evokes a natural sense of security in the cat.

Purr’ferred Treats And Toys

Bring the top toys, treats, and other enticers your cat enjoys at home along for the vet visit. Your feline’s familiar favorites paired with care invite your cat to see the bright side of visiting the vet. Better yet, condition your cat to view travel and other handling as pleasurable. Do this prior to the visit by pairing these situations with positives and moving at your cat’s pace. For instance, go for a car trip without even placing the car into gear or turning on the engine. With the car set at a comfortable temperature, place delectable treats inside the carrier for a treat-tastic experience in the crate and car. Similarly, conduct handling and care the cat may experience, such as ear handling, at a slow pace that allows the cat to stay relaxed. Pair the experiences with rewards the cat enjoys: treats,  petting, or a play session.

Purr’manently Positive

Protect your cat’s ongoing emotional wellness by ensuring that care at home, at the veterinary clinic, and at the groomer or other pet care providers is done in a way that fosters a feeling of feline safety and security. Don’t force compliance. Rather, make it less threatening by helping your cat stay calm. Partnering with your Fear Free certified veterinary team is essential in these efforts. For many cats, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical help may be advised as ways to further your efforts and transform your cat’s attitude from concerned to comfortable.

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Mikkel Becker, CBCC-KA, KPA CTP, CDBC, CPDT-KA, CTC
Mikkel Becker is a certified trainer and certified behavior consultant who specializes in training dogs and cats. Mikkel is the co-author of six books and has been the featured trainer on Vetstreet.com. In her professional work, Becker uses positive reinforcement and non-force based training strategies that are rooted in scientific learning theory. Mikkel is committed to helping pets and their people live better lives together through kind training and bond building methods that partner closely with the pet’s veterinary team.