Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Preventive health care helps pets live longer, happier lives. But some cats are so anxious about travel that bringing them to the clinic—not to mention examining and treating them—is a challenge.
Resistance to carriers and stress at the veterinary hospital are two of the top reasons that some cats receive no preventive health care at all. Here are some things you can do at home to make trips to the clinic easier for your cat.
Choosing a carrier
Choose a carrier that is easy to get your cat into and out of. Lifting a cat out of a top opening is less stressful (to the cat) than pulling or dumping her out of a front opening. A front-loading carrier lets a cat walk in on her own, so consider carriers with both front and top doors. Rigid plastic carriers that come apart in the middle are great for cats who are anxious at the clinic. Taking the top half of the carrier off makes it easy to gently scoop out a cat. Sometimes the cat can stay in the bottom half, where she might feel more secure, for most of the examination.
Getting your cat used to the carrier
Cats need lots of time to adjust to new things. Let your cat get used to the carrier at home before you need to bring her to the clinic.
Once your cat is going into the carrier on her own, shut the door for brief periods. Continue to give positive reinforcement: occasionally drop a treat through the top while the door is shut. Let her out before she shows signs of anxiety (ears pinned back, flattened or frozen posture, vocalization).
Getting your cat used to traveling
After your cat has accepted the carrier as a normal part of life, take her on short car rides that end in something fun. Dogs who love car rides have learned that good things happen after a trip. Cats are often put in the car only to go somewhere they don’t like, so naturally they are less happy about it. Try taking very short trips that end at home, with treats and toys when you get back.
Carrier training and synthetic feline pheromones are just not enough to manage some cats’ fears. (Cats who are aggressive at the clinic are scared cats, not bad cats.) Or you might need to bring your cat to the clinic before you have time to accustom her to the carrier. Antianxiety medication given at home before a clinic visit can make a big difference for some cats. Call the clinic if you’d like to discuss the options. We want the clinic experience to be as stress-free as possible for both you and your cat.
More information from the American Association of Feline Practitioners
Choosing the perfect cat carrier
Cat carrier tips
Getting your cat to the veterinarian
Photo by Paul
2/27/2018 07:40:00 pm
Your advice to choose a carrier that you'll be able to easily get your cat into and out of is a good idea. In order to find one, you'd probably want to talk to the staff at your animal hospital and other pet owners. I also like your advice to take your cat on short trips that end at home, with treat and toys to get them more comfortable so that they won't mind traveling to the vet.
4/12/2018 01:49:48 pm
My husband and I are buying a cat this month and I am so glad that I found this article because I have never owned a pet before. I like that you say to get your cat used to a carrier at home before you take them in the carrier to the vet because they need to have positive associations with the carrier. Also, I will make sure my husband and I take the cat on short car trips and make sure to give treats when we get home to make it a positive experience. I hope that this will ease any tension our cat will have in going to the vet.
5/8/2018 12:02:32 am
I am so thankful for what you have shared about veterinary visits. We have pets at home, 2 cats and 1 labrador. When they're still kittens and puppy, we could easily bring them to their veterinarian. But now, we're having an issue with that since they're too big to hold in the car. Thanks for letting us know how to choose the right carrier for them.
6/5/2018 12:05:40 pm
I really liked the idea of putting catnip in your cat's carrier, as it will help them associate the carrier with positive things. I've been wanting to get a cat, but I haven't been sure how to take it to the vet. I'll be certain to keep this post in mind. Do you have any tips for choosing a great vet?
Rebecca Johnson, DVM
6/6/2018 09:35:12 am
I recommend some pet loving friends who they use. If you are in the Charlotte area, give us a call with any other questions you have. 704-717-7878.
7/5/2018 11:43:22 am
I really like what you said about getting the cat used to the carrier. This is something that I have been trying to do with my cat because he really doesn't like getting in the carrier to go places. Lately, I have been thinking of taking him to the vet so hopefully, I can use your tips and get him used to the carrier so I can take him to the vet.
7/18/2018 10:38:44 pm
Thanks for the tip about taking your cat on short car trips so it could get used to it and associate it with something fun rather than just unpleasant. I just got a Munchkin cat and she's adorable but I couldn't figure out how to get her to go to the vet without getting upset since she didn't like the car ride when I picked her up. I'll have to take her on multiple short trips and give her rewards so she'll start to like car rides and then when I find a cat hospital to take her to she'll willingly go.
8/15/2018 10:03:36 am
My wife and I are looking at getting a cat in the near future. I like how you point out the need to leave the carrier out for the cat to get used to. It makes sense that familiarity could be the biggest difference in our cat's nerves when it comes to transportation to and from the vet.
8/16/2018 02:04:16 pm
I liked your idea to ease your cat into liking their carrier. My cat hates her carrier and protests loudly whenever she has to get inside of it. I would really like to try this out and see if it will work with her so that visits to the vet aren't as crazy.
10/3/2018 09:17:53 am
My friend recently adopted a cat as her ESA, so she's been wondering how to get her cat used to visiting the vet. It was nice when you mentioned that she should try taking trips with her cat in the car and reward her with treats afterwards. These tips will totally help my friend get her new cat used to the vet, so thank you for sharing them.
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Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The contents of this blog are for information only and should not substitute for advice from a veterinarian who has examined the animal. All blog content is copyrighted by Mallard Creek Animal Hospital and may not be copied, reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without permission.