Improve cat veterinary office visits
By Kim Boatman
For many cat owners, taking kitty to the veterinarian is so fraught with struggle and discomfort that they avoid visits altogether. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, cats outnumber dogs as pets in this country, but dog owners take their pets to the veterinarian twice as often as cat owners do.
Your cat's good health is dependent on regular examinations. The good news is that there's plenty you can do to make the veterinary experience a better one for both you and your pet.
Cat Veterinary Office Tips
- Make the cat carrier a home. Familiarize your cat with its carrier. The key is for the carrier to become a part of your cat's everyday life. "Make it a comfortable resting, feeding or play location," advises Dr. Jane Brunt, executive director of the CATalyst Council, which works to raise the level of care cats receive.
Marilyn Krieger, a Redwood City, Calif., certified cat behavior consultant, recommends using a hard carrier. Begin by taking the top off and leaving the bottom out for your cat. Place a soft, familiar blanket or treats in the carrier. Play with your kitty around the carrier. Eventually, you can add the top, but leave the door off. "Put the door on after your cat goes in and out on its own," says Krieger. When you're ready to travel with the carrier, try a spritz of Feliway, a calming pheromone spray. Bring another towel to cover the carrier, which can provide some security.
- Be relaxed. Your cat knows when you're upset. "If you're anxious, your cat will be anxious," says Dr. Deb Givin, a Portland, Maine, veterinarian. Try to schedule visits when you aren't stressed or on a tight schedule.
- Train your cat to travel. Mix in outings to other locations and try a "social" visit to your veterinarian's office, where your cat is rewarded with a treat or two. Start by placing your cat in its carrier in the vehicle, then turn on the motor briefly before returning your kitty to the house. Add short trips around the block, then to the veterinarian's parking lot, and finally to the reception area before scheduling a formal visit.
- Make your cat feel safe. Allow your kitty to stay in its carrier in the waiting area, facing away from other animals. If your veterinarian doesn't have a separate entrance or waiting area for cats, ask to be placed in an exam room as soon as possible, says Dr. Annie Harvilicz, founder and chief medical officer for Santa Monica, Calif.-based Animal Wellness Centers.
- Provide comfort in the exam room. Remove the lid to your latching carrier and let your veterinarian examine your cat while it is still sitting in the bottom of the carrier. If you need to place your kitty on an exam table, lay that extra towel on the table to make a more comfortable surface.
What Your Veterinarian Can Do
Veterinarians can also work to make each visit a better experience. They should consider:
- Office noise Their offices should be neither libraries nor stadiums, with no whispering, which mimics hissing, or loud noises.
- Proper greetings "It's a good idea to formally greet the cat and let the cat get to know you," says Krieger. That might mean letting a cat sniff your fingers as the animal health care expert averts his or her gaze.
- Careful handling Gentle, respectful handling is important to a cat's sense of security. "Have several techniques for getting cats out of their carriers so you can accommodate any carrier style and cat temperament," says Givin.
- Bribery Tasty treats, catnip and play may help distract or reward a cat.
If both you and your veterinarian work to control the experience, you're likely to be pleasantly surprised.
Kim Boatman is a Northern California-based journalist whose work has appeared in such publications as The Miami Herald, Detroit Free Press and San Jose Mercury News. She is a lifelong lover of animals and shares her home with three adopted cats.