Making Vet Visits Less Stressful for Your Cat

Imagine- you’re checking another item off you’re to do list for the the day- your afternoon nap- when your human grabs you, sticks you into this box and puts you in the car. After a bumpy ride, you’re taken out and into a building where you hear, but can’t see dogs barking, cats meowing and people talking. After sitting for a while listening to all this, you are taken into a little room, removed from the box and stuck on a cold shiny table. Some person you don’t know starts poking and prodding you while your human stands by letting it happen.

When you look at a vet visit from your cat’s point of view, you can see why they hate to go.  While you can’t take away the fear completely, there are some things you can do to make the appointments less stressful.

First be proactive.  Get your cat used to being examined. This is easy to do with a kitten, but older cats can learn too. Pick a nice quiet time and bring some yummy treats.  Start slow and don’t push it.  Begin with doing a massage, moving to parts of his body that he doesn’t really like touched. Give a treat every few minutes as a reward. You want to get to the point where you can look inside his ears, touch his paws and lift his lips to look at his teeth.

For most cats, the only time they go into a cat carrier is when there are going somewhere they aren’t going to like. Leave the carrier out with the door open so he can get into it. Encourage him by putting a blanket inside and add some treats or his bowl of food. Let him come and go as he pleases.

When it’s time for the vet visit, put one of your cats’ favorite blankets in the bottom of the carrier to give your cat something familiar from home. A second blanket or towel can be used to cover the carrier if it very noisy in the waiting room. This blanket can also be placed on the exam table to make your cat more comfortable and feel safer because he can grab onto (better is a carrier that allows easy access for the vet while the cat stays in it). If possible find a seat in a quiet part of the waiting room. For cats that get really stressed, you may find it best to leave them in the car until it is time to go into the exam room (only do this during cool weather as cars can over heat quickly).

There are 2 things I picked up working in a vet clinic that seem to help keep the cats calm at least during the exam portion. One thing to be aware of is how the people in the room act.  Owners tend to get upset when their cats are upset and start talking to them thinking they are calming them down by what they are saying. What they don’t realize is how often they use a frantic tone voice. Cats pick up on this and start to get upset thinking something awful is going to happen. Remain calm and talk in a lower voice. Stretching words out, like saying “Goooooood” instead of “Good” can help keep a calm tone.

Petting your cat during the exam can help assure him everything is okay. I found many cats enjoy getting a little massage. Just place the fingers of both hands on each shoulder and move your hands in circles.

Once the appointment is over and you are checking out, you may find it better to put your cat in the car before you take care of paying (weather-permitting) or using the extra blanket to cover the carrier.  If you keep kitty with you, just be sure to set it away from any loud animals.

Regular veterinary check-ups are very important in maintaining your cat’s health. While he may never love going to the vet, with just a little work and some patience, vet visits for your cat can be made less stressful.


How have you made vet visits less stressful for your cat?

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13 comments to Making Vet Visits Less Stressful for Your Cat

  • JLW

    I think you are being over optimistic about training a cat. Or, you have very little to do other than work with the cat. I’m not trying to pick a fight, just telling you how I feel.

    I prefer to let our cats be cats and enjoy them at their bidding.

    Our cats don’t seem to be bothered by the vet. They tolerate the exams quite well, however, one of our cats hate the sight of the carrier. No matter how well we conceal the thing she hides under any piece of furniture she can find. In the past when we put her in the carrier she would come unhinged to the point we were afraid she would injure herself. We have had to resort to getting a tranquelizer from the vet to give to her before we even bring in the carrier. She still doesn’t like the carrier but is too drugged to do anything about it other than give us an effortless growl.

    Once at the vet she is perfectly willing to allow all of the prodding and poking the vet needs to do. Of course, they do anesthetize her when they clean her teeth.

    I hate giving her the tranquelizer and since she is 18 years old, I’m considering not putting het through the ordeal for routine exams. She will only go to the vet when she is showing some sign of illness.

  • dawn

    Believe it or not I really don’t spend much time out of my day training my pets. With my zoo crew plus a full time job, there isn’t much free time. But luckily teaching your cat to accept being handled can take just a minute out of your day, long enough for that commercial to get over with.

    I don’t do this just for the vet visits, but also in case there is a time I have to do more handling than normal like managing my diabetic cats’ insulin shots and blood glucose testing. It is much easier to spend those minutes before you have to deal with managing a chronic illness than fight them to do it when they aren’t feeling good. I just adopted an 11 year old diabetic cat this summer who will not let anyone handle her for the necessary care. her owners were fine with that, but then she became sick. She is not cat you could give insulin to (at least not without a fight twice a day which is no life)let alone test her blood glucose. It is a good thing that getting her off dry food and onto just canned was enough to bring her blood glucose down and hopefully that will keep her controlled. Just in case, we do ever have to go on insulin, I am working to get her to accept being handled.

    Compare her to the new diabetic cat who joined my household this past weekend. He was a show cat at one time, so learned how to accept being handled. He has not had a problem letting me, a stranger, test his blood several time a day and give insulin. It will take some time working with Min, but in the end, it will make her life and mine a little easier.

  • My cats fight me getting into the carrier, then yeowl all the way to the vet. Once at the vet, all they want to do is get back IN the carrier. :)

  • Cindy

    I had a cat that hated the carrier. My solution was to put her on a leash when I took her to the vet. She handled that beautifully.

  • dawn

    I always loved listening to the owners when their cats ran back into the carrier. All the trouble they went through at home…

  • dawn

    That’s great that you found a solution to make it easier for your cat. How does she react to dogs if they are in the waiting room?

  • Debbie

    I adopted my first cat a few months ago and he didn’t like the carrier either. He’d resist going in and would start yeowling and pawing at the door once inside. I didn’t want it to always be this huge ordeal to get him into the carrier, so I started “carrier practice” where I’d get him in the carrier, coo and comfort him for a minute, then let him out for a lavish petting session and a few treats. I did this about once or twice a week for a month, then I graduated to carrying him around the house while he was inside of the carrier, followed by pets and treats. After two months of this, he no longer yeowls immediately when placed inside the carrier! =D Now for car training… =S

  • dawn

    What a great way to get him to associate the carrier with good experiences! I would love to hear how the car training goes.

  • Grany Rose

    We use the airline-approved “Sherpa” bags as carriers. They have zippered openings on the top, and you can pick your kitty up, turn it on its back and place it inside so that it never has a chance to splay its legs and fight you about going in. Much less trauma for both you and the kitty. There is mesh on 3 sides of the bag which is good for those kitties who need to see what’s happening in order to feel secure, and you can toss a towel over it for those who need less information. And because there are several ways to get into it, it’s easy to put a hand inside while traveling to comfort an unhappy, frightened, or sick pet. And the fleece pad comes out for washing! And all 4 of our kitties have learned that as soon as they get home from the vet and the door of the carrier gets opened, their favorite “dried tuna flakes” treat will be waiting just for them, so they perk up right away.

  • Joann

    I need to travel by car from Baltimore Maryland to Cocoa Beach Florida and need tips on how to keep my two Bengal cats calm and quite. They both scream constantly when going on a short trip to the vet, I don’t know how I will be able to deal with their screaming,and my husband yelling for 1800 miles. Any helpful hints will be appreciated. Thanks.

  • dawn

    I once drove from Washington state to Pennsylvania with 5 cats, 3 dogs and 1 bird and I managed to arrive still sane! I would start by getting them used to their carrier like I describe in the article. Make it a good place for them so they learn it’s not just the thing that takes them to the vet. Feed them in it, throw some special treats in there for them to find, even sprinkle some catnip in there. Some tests drives with one person driving and another person sitting by the carrier and giving some treats can help.

    They might be more comfortable in a carrier that is larger than what you use to take them to the vet since you will be traveling quite a distance. Some cats are fine sharing a carrier, others aren’t. If they are fine together in close quarters, that may help reduce the stress, but I would try before setting off on the actual drive. There are also flower essences and a pheromone spray called Feliway that help reduce stress.

    Hope you have a safe and quiet trip!

  • Amanda

    My cat lets me do all of this to her just fine, but when we get to the vet she doesn’t want anyone else to touch her. They even have her file labled so all of the staff knows that she is “trouble”, which she really isn’t! Any tips??

  • dawn


    It can be just as stressful for the owner as the cat when going to the vet. There are some things you can do to try and make her a little more comfortable. Unfortunately, there’s nothing quick and easy and it can be hard with healthy cats who only go once a year to get used to going to the vet.

    How is she in general with having people handle her? Is she fine with it at home with other people including strangers handling her?

    If she doesn’t like other people handling her, you can start by working on having other people handle her like I describe in the article for getting them used to an exam.

    Does she go anywhere else like the groomers or on trips with you? if so, how does she act at those times? Is she doesn’t, I would take some time to just put her in her carrier and go for a ride. After doing that for for a few weeks, I would stop at a pet store and take her inside in her carrier or find out when a quiet time is at the vet that you can just stop by go in and then come out. Even though they seem fine through the whole process of putting them in their carrier, then into the car and then to the vet, anxiety begins when we get that carrier out and continues to build as we take them in for their visit. By taking her other places, you are trying to break that cycle so anxiety doesn’t start once she is in her carrier or in the car. You don’t want to stress her out to much when doing this by showing her to everyone who asks, so be sure to go slow. Once that seems okay, you may want to schedule some vet visits where she just goes in and doesn’t get any any shots or blood draws. Maybe they just pet her or give her a treat. Gradually working into more of an exam.

    Other ways to help keep her calmer are to schedule when the vet clinic isn’t busy so they can take their time handling her. You may also want to consider a Sleepypod carrier- http://sleepypod.com/sleepypod as you can just unzip the top giving them easy access to examine her without taking her out.

    There are flower essences and calming tablets you may want to do some research on. I’ve tried flower essences for other things without much luck, but other people find they help.

    And don’t take the “trouble” label to heart. That doesn’t mean she’s a bad cat, just that they have to be cautious when handling her (cat bites are NO fun and can be really dangerous).

    Let me know how things are working out!


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