Reducing Stress: Visiting the Vet
Visiting the vets is a dreaded task for cat owners. Firstly you have the trauma of catching your cat who had already cottoned on that the consultation was booked three days ago! Then there is the task of persuading them to go into the carrier (see cat carrier training below). Then there is the constant meowing or howling during the car journey, and for the unlucky ones a stinky mess to clean up too. By no fault of their own vets often run over, and often there is a wait in the waiting room until you and your cat are called in.
This is stressful for us to witness, but it also means that by the time your cat finally gets called in there stress and adrenaline levels are pretty high, making examination and handling harder for the vet and your pet.
Below are a few tips that may help reduce this stress stacking to its peak:
the type of carrier
The type of carrier you use is important. Quite often as a veterinary nurse I would find owners joking with me that their cats refused to go in the basket at home, but then in the consult room they would refuse to come out! This is because cats like to feel hidden and secure, and in the alien world of the veterinary practice the carrier becomes their safe haven. I call it the island effect. Have you ever seen your cat squish themselves into a tiny ball so they can sit on the one magazine that is on the otherwise clear table top?
Below are some tips on the sort of basket that may help your cat feel better at the vets.
- Ensure your basket is solid and secure – materials that bend such as canvas will make the cat worry that they are not supported.
- Choose a basket that enables your cat to feel hidden. They love to be able to peer out but not be seen themselves. If your basket is a wire basket then partially cover it with a towel.
- Baskets that allow you to remove the top are handy as it means that the veterinary staff can examine your cat, and even carry out some procedures, inside the box. This means your cat feels they are still in their island of security with some degree of coverage around them.
- Bring a blanket from home to ensure the basket smells familiar and feels soft. I would recommend spraying Feliway (http://www.feliway.com/uk) on the blanket 15 minutes prior to your cat going in the carrier.
- Ensure your basket is on a flat and stable surface in the car and secure it with a seatbelt
at the vets
In the waiting room
- If the waiting room is very full or there are noisy or lively dogs, don’t be afraid to ask the receptionist if there is a quiet room your cat could be placed in, or if they could go behind the reception desk.
- Never place your cat carrier on the floor. This will leave your cat feeling extremely vulnerable. Instead, place the carrier on a chair next to you, facing side on to any passers by.
- Never open the carrier door or let your cat out of the carrier until you are in the consulting room. Your cat will be stressed and may take flight out of the surgery door.
In the vets or nurses room
- While you introduce yourself and start talking to the vet or nurse, open the carrier door. This way, while you are still talking your cat can become accustomed to their new surroundings and by the time the veterinary staff are ready to examine your cat he or she may have already assessed how safe they feel while still keeping their stress levels down because they are reasonably hidden. If given time for this assessment they often will come out voluntarily which will reduce the need for intrusive handling.
- Never tip or shake the carrier to get your cat out.
- A carrier which opens from the top is useful if your cat does need to be lifted out as this is less intrusive then two big human arms coming in from the front.
- A carrier which allows the top to be taken off completely is even better, as this allows for veterinary staff to carry out examination and procedures inside the basket.
- During examinations and procedures, always try to keep restraint light and minimal. If cats feel like they have a degree of choice they are much less likely to fight with you. If your cat is actively trying to seek their basket or escape, then helping them feel hidden will calm them down. Lightly cover them with a blanket or your coat.
- Bring some favourite treats along, such a little pot of tuna. This way you can give your cats treats while the vet or nurse examines her or gives her injections. You can even practice at home.
Once your cat is home again
- Chances are you will be just as relieved as your cat to be home. After letting them out of the basket leave them alone to relax.
- If you have other pets, particularly other cats, let them out of the carrier in a separate room. The cat that has just been to the vets will smell of the veterinary hospital and could be treated with suspicion and even aggression by the other cats. Reintroduce your cats safely by providing a mutual scent. To do this, take two towels and rub both cats with each of the towels. Then, leave a towel with each of the cats. Only allow them to interact once they have both calmed down.
- Leave the carrier out for a few days, feeding your cat in it and ensuring the cat carrier training is still strong, leaving it with a positive association.
Stress in Felines: Cause and Effect
When our feline friends are showing signs of abnormal behaviour it is nearly
always down to one thing: stress. This stress often becomes apparent to the owner in several ways.
In stressed cats urine spraying and inappropriate elimination be done excessively and/or in all the wrong places. The height the urine is deposited (sprayed or eliminated in a squatting position), the location and the substrates urinated on are all useful factors to investigate when deciding the cause of feline stress in a particular place and how to resolve it.
Aggression between cats in a multi-cat household is a sign that the group are not coping with the situation.
Cats scratch on surfaces to stretch, maintain good claw health and to mark their territory. Cats that are feeling stressed or vulnerable will often perform scratching, and the locations chosen are often very telling of the cause of the stress.
The repetitive action of grooming can be soothing and distracting for a cat that is feeling under stress. This can result in large bald areas and even sores and wounds.