Fear is the primary cause of problematic behavior during veterinary visits, according to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). Knowing this can help your cat have a pleasant vet visit.

Getting the Cat into the Carrier

cat carrierKeep the carrier out in the home. Put treats inside. Train cats to view the carrier as a safe haven and “home away from home.” A quick response is crucial in case of disaster or emergency.

Carriers that have both a top and a front opening are best. Top-loading carriers allow for stress-free placement and removal of the cat. A removable carrier top enables cats to be examined while remaining in the bottom half of the carrier. Do not “dump” a cat out of a carrier.

Adjusting to Car Rides

Always put the cat in a carrier or other safe container. Take the cat for regular car rides. Begin with very short car rides. Take your cat to places other than the veterinary hospital. To prevent car sickness, do not feed before traveling. Reward your cat verbally, with positive attention, and with treats.

Pleasant Veterinary Visits

Bring along the cat’s favorite treats, toys, and blanket.
Perform regular home maintenance procedures, including grooming, nail trimming, teeth brushing.

“Play vet” procedures that mimic temperature taking, ear cleaning, and pilling can help cats better adjust to the veterinary hospital and to future home care when necessary.
Regular trips to the veterinary hospital for “fun” visits involving no examinations or procedures provides owners and staff with the opportunity to reward the cat with praise and food treats.

Need More Help?

We love cats, ours and yours, and we’re always here to help. If you have had an unpleasant experience trying to get your cat into the carrier or to the veterinarian in the past, or your cat is fearful for visits, please let us know–we’re here to educate you on the best ways to care for your friend!

Some of our favorite anxiety reducing aids:

Feliway spray, wipes, and diffusers
Zylkene Capsules
Anxitane chewable tablets

Cat Carriers

Carriers provide safety for both you and your cat during transport and often give a cat a sense of security by being hidden in a secure, closed container. Carriers should be sturdy, secure and stable for the cat, easy for you to carry, and quiet so that opening the carrier does not startle the cat. Some cats like to see out, whereas others are less anxious when covered. The design should permit easy removal of the cat if he will not come out on his own, or should allow the cat to be easily examined in the bottom of his carrier. A removable top is useful for fearful and fear-aggressive cats, as well as for sick, painful or limited-mobility cats.

A variety of carrier styles exist, such as this one which zips open, allowing the cat to be slowly exposed, as appropriate, while she remains on her own bedding. Courtesy of Dr. Anne-Claire Gagnon

A more conventional carrier, with removable top and front. Courtesy of Dr. Sophia Yin

Training the Cat to Use the Carrier

The goal is for your cat to learn to associate the carrier with positive experiences and routinely enter it voluntarily. Make the carrier a familiar part of furniture at home, with soft bedding for comfort. If your cat responds favorably to treats, catnip and/or toys, place these in the open carrier as positive reinforcement to encourage your cat to enter the carrier at home. Some families find it helpful to train the cat to enter the carrier using a word or clicker as a cue. Individual cats respond differently to treats; use them if they make your cat less stressed or anxious.

Getting an Unwilling Cat into the Carrier

The goal is for your cat to enter the carrier voluntarily. If your cat has not been accustomed to the carrier at the time a veterinary visit is imminent, plan a strategy that will work your type of carrier and home environment.

Putting the carrier in a small room with few hiding places may encourage your cat to choose the carrier. Consider use of a synthetic pheromone spray (Feliway) in the carrier at least 30 minutes prior to transport to help calm your cat. Open the carrier and place familiar bedding, a toy and/or treat inside. Encourage your cat to enter the carrier voluntarily.

Do not chase your cat to get it into the carrier. If needed, remove the top of the carrier while encouraging your cat to go into the bottom tray, then calmly replace the top.

Transporting the Carrier in a Vehicle

Prior to any scheduled veterinary visit, practice lifting the carrier and getting it in and out of the car. Try this first without your cat, to be sure that there isn’t too much jostling or knocking of the carrier, and then with your cat inside. During travel, secure the carrier by placing it on the floor or by using a seatbelt because a moving carrier can frighten your cat. Placing a towel over the carrier can help your cat feel less frightened.

View Dr. Alison’s tips on creating a cat-friendly home!