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Reducing Your Cat's Fear of the Veterinarian

Reviewed by Dr. Sarah Tasse, DVM on Tuesday, June 9, 2015
Posted March 05, 2015 in Cat Behavior

young kittens with a stethoscope

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is www.DrPhilZeltzman.com. He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (www.amazon.com).

AJ Debiasse, a technician in Stroudsburg, PA, contributed to this article.

Dr. Marty Becker, “America’s Veterinarian,” has recently started a new trend in U.S. animal hospitals: Fear Free™ veterinary visits. The idea applies to animal clinics, as well as pet guardians interested in “taking the pet out of petrifiedSM.”

In reality, few cats love going to the veterinarian. A typical trip to the hospital can be stressful, for both you and your cat. Stress can cause serious health issues, decrease signs of pain or sensitivity, modify diagnostic tests, weaken the immune system and cause diarrhea. Fortunately, there are now some simple, safe, surefire Fear-Free™ techniques that you and your veterinarian can use to make your cat’s visits to the hospital less stressful.

Reducing stress before the veterinary visit
Stress starts at home. Cats that hide or run away when they see the carrier are afraid because being in the carrier usually means a trip to an unpleasant place like to the veterinary clinic, the groomer or a boarding facility. Make sure your cat gets acclimated to the carrier before visiting your veterinarian. You can even make the carrier a safe, enjoyable place by leaving it out, placing treats inside, spritzing it with pheromones, putting new toys in it and allowing it to be a safe, comfortable place to sleep.

Reducing stress at the veterinarian’s office
Veterinary visits should not be the only time your cat rides in the car. You can take her for a short drive around the block at first, and then progressively increase the distance. Spray some pheromones inside the car (and carrier). This way, over time, your cat will associate traveling with things that are pleasant and will be less fearful of the car. Motion sickness and anxiety can be treated with medications. Your veterinarian can also prescribe tranquilizers (many are natural products), pheromones, anti-nausea drugs, compression garments and even special music. These fear-busting tools can be used alone or together (we call it a multimodal approach) so that nobody fears a trip to the veterinarian.

"Just because" visits to your veterinarian hospital can not only decrease stress, but can help your cat enjoy visits to the veterinarian! Go to the clinic and (after asking for permission) allow your cat to meet friendly faces, enjoy some treats and leave. There should be no poking, no nail trimming and no vaccination. Just fun and treats!

During wellness visits and procedures that don’t require sedation or anesthesia, bring your cat fasted: this can work great. With your veterinarian’s permission, bring your cat’s meal or favorite treats with you. These can be used as a distraction during the exam, vaccines, blood draws etc. Food or treats should be given until the end of the visit. Then petting and a big hug are in order!

Your own demeanor plays a large role in your cat's serenity. Stress is contagious. Your cat trusts you and senses your emotions, so if you're on edge, your cat will be as well. Do your best not to show if you are nervous. Your cat will take cues from you and be on high alert. For example, don’t baby-talk to your cat in the home, in the car or while waiting for the veterinarian.

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at www.DrPhilZeltzman.com, and follow him at www.facebook.com/DrZeltzman.