Cats – Fear Free Veterinary Visits

Cats – Fear Free Veterinary Visits

By Michelle Lutheran, RVT

We have been talking about Fear Free lately on our Facebook page a lot lately. Today I would like to focus on cats.
Did you know that more than HALF of cats in the United States have not been to a veterinary clinic within the past year for their needed annual checkups?
Does this scene sound familiar at your house?

You get the carrier out and Fluffy runs for the hills. You find Fluffy under the bed in your room and have to somehow get her out from under it. Now you have to put her in the carrier. Oh boy! All four feet are on the edge of the carrier while you are trying to stuff the cat in. You have Fluffy in the carrier and think “That went about as well as trying to baptize a cat.” Now we go to the car. You load up Fluffy in the back seat and start the journey to the clinic. Fluffy begins to sing the song of her people. You arrive at the clinic and set the carrier on the floor while you check in at the reception desk. Meanwhile, a happy Labrador puppy comes over to see what treasures the carrier should behold. Suddenly, Fluffy turns into a panther, hissing and rocking the carrier around. The Lab leaves and Fluffy seems to have quieted down. The Technician comes to get you and Fluffy to go to an exam room. As you are visiting about what vaccines Fluffy is due for, you open the kennel door. The panther is back. She is hissing and spitting and swatting. There is no way she is coming out of the kennel without a fight. You can’t believe she is behaving this way! She is so sweet and loving at home. How are they going to be able to examine her let alone give her shots?

Let’s take a step back and analyze how this all escalated. Cats are very sensitive to sights, sounds, smells and change. Let’s start with the carrier. She has had nothing but negative experiences with it. The cat only sees the carrier once a year when she gets stuffed in it. Then she is put in the car with strange noises. Now we walk into the vet clinic. There are strange smells and barking dogs. She gets set on the floor inside her carrier with no where to go. A strange creature comes up to her and she cannot run away so her only option is to act big and try to make it go away. By now she is not sure what comes next. She left her house in her carrier and now she is in a different place. (She must feel like Dorothy in Oz.) When her carrier is opened, she is not sure what is coming for her so she has no choice but to fight.

How can we make this better for Fluffy?

The Carrier: It all starts at home. Bring the carrier out well in advance. At least a week if possible. Make it attractive to the cat. Toys, treats, canned food, catnip are all good things to use to entice the cat to explore the carrier. Remember the Feliway spray we talked about earlier? That is a great idea to spray in and on the carrier. In a perfect world, the cat would have constant access to the carrier so it is never a surprise when they have to go into it.
The car ride: You have Fluffy in the carrier and now it is time for the car ride. Cover the carrier with a towel pre-sprayed with Feliway to eliminate startling sights and help keep Fluffy calm. Make sure the carrier is secure in the car so it cannot tip over or shift during the trip.
In the clinic: You can certainly leave Fluffy in the car while you check in if it is busy in the lobby. Barking dogs can certainly upset cats. If it is not busy and you take Fluffy in, make sure to set her on the counter or bench so other pets cannot bother her. Imagine being in a confined space on the floor and a strange creature comes up to you. Is it friendly? Will it eat me? That is what your cat is thinking. While you wait, keep the towel over the carrier and don’t allow other pets to come “investigate” what is in the carrier. If you feel that your cat will get anxious while waiting, please share you concerns with the veterinary staff and you can be taken to the exam room to wait.

The exam: Many cats feel safe in their carrier and we are happy to simply take off the carrier lid and do the exam in the carrier. The less the patient is shuffled around, the better they will handle the exam. Most cats can have their vaccines while in the opened carrier also. Most of the cats will come out of the carrier to sit on the exam table that we have already sprayed with Feliway. We use a variety of treats and toys as distractions. Even if cats don’t eat food while in the clinic, if they are willing to smell the food pleasurable signals are sent to their brain.

Medications: Some cats are still upset even though we do many things to help their visit go smoothly. These cats may benefit from pre-visit pharmaceuticals. The easy-to-give medications are given the night before and 1-2 hours before the exam. These medications are designed to reduce stress and anxiety.
If you would like to talk about a Fear Free Visit plan for your cat please feel free to call and speak with our certified technician.
A relaxed, content cat enjoying the exam.

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