From being put into the cat carrier, to being poked and prodded on the examination table, every stage of the process is likely to be stressful for a cat. And as much as we might try to tell them, unfortunately they don’t understand that it’s important for their own health.
Some owners might find vet visits such an ordeal that they put off making appointments, but it’s vital that cats have a check-up at least once a year so any problems can be identified early. Any change in your cat’s behaviour or health should be checked by a vet, as it could be a sign that something is wrong.
There are numerous signs of stress, although they are not always obvious. Learn how to recognise stress in cats and try these vet-approved tips for less stressful trips:
- Book the appointment for a quiet time
Vets can be busy at all hours of the day, but if your cat is particularly stressed by visits, ask if there are quieter times that would be less overwhelming for your cat.
- Find a vet with a cat-only waiting room
Try to find a nearby vet to limit journey times. You might be able to find a vet that offers a cat-only waiting room for a less stressful experience. Look out for practices that have International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) Cat Friendly Clinic accreditation.
- Get your cat used to the carrier
Make sure you have a suitable cat carrier that’s big enough for your cat to lie down, is well-ventilated and ideally top opening. If your cat is wary of the carrier, try leaving it out, not just before a vet appointment, so they can get used to it and explore it on their own terms. See our cat carrier training guide.
- Use a pheromone spray
To help your cat feel safer and calmer inside the cat carrier, place their unwashed bedding into the carrier so it smells familiar to them. Alternatively, place a blanket inside and spray it with a pheromone spray like Feliway at least 15 minutes before your cat is due to go in it.
- Don’t feed your cat just before
To avoid your cat vomiting or toileting inside their carrier, limit the amount of food they eat for a couple of hours before the journey, unless you’ve been told otherwise by the vet. If they do have any accidents, take a spare so can swap them for the journey home.
- Keep the carrier covered
While your cat is inside, cover the carrier with a sheet or towel, while making sure there is enough ventilation, to help keep them calm on the journey to and from the vets.
- Stay calm
Staying calm yourself will help your cat to relax. If you’re driving to the vets, keep any music or talking at a low volume and drive as smoothly as possible. If you’re walking or getting public transport, try to avoid busy, noisy areas.
- Keep it cool
Avoid travelling during the hottest part of the day if you can. If you’re travelling by car, temperatures inside can get dangerously high on hot days. Try to keep the ambient temperature between 5˚C and 30˚C, but keep windows firmly shut just in case your cat manages to escape from their carrier.
- Wait outside/in the car until the appointment
If your cat could find the vet waiting room stressful, call reception to let them know you’ll wait in the car and ask them to call when the vet is ready to see you.
- Leave your cat in the carrier until the vet is ready
When you get in the examination room, leave your cat inside the carrier until the vet is ready to examine them. You might need to chat to the vet about your concerns for a while and leaving your cat inside the carrier will help keep them calm while you do this. When it’s time for your cat to be examined, allow them to come out in their own time and don’t attempt to tip them out of the carrier. Top-opening carriers are ideal as you will be able to gently lift your cat out.
- Prepare a list of questions in advance
To help keep the amount of time your cat needs to be at the vets to a minimum, prepare a list of concerns and questions in advance, perhaps writing them down to help you remember. Put the most important points at the top of the list, so that those can be addressed first. If your cat becomes extremely stressed, consider speaking to your vet over the phone instead.
- Let your cat relax when they get home
When you get home from the vets, let your cat exit the carrier at their own pace, and leave them alone to calm down. For the rest of the day try to avoid anything that might stress them, such as noise or having lots of people over, as this will build on any stress they’ve experienced.
Your vet might suggest a pet behaviourist to help reduce stress. Cats Protection has tips on how to find a good behaviourist, plus advice to try at home.
Watch this video about recognising stress in cats.