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Getting your Cat to the Vet

How to Reduce the Stress of Taking Your Cat to the Vet

Most cats love to play in boxes.  Why is it so hard then, when it comes time to go to the vet, to get your cat into a box?

Your cat associates their carrier with travelling to strange places – usually the vet or to the cattery.  Other than these times the carrier usually lives up the back of the cupboard or gathering dust in the garage.

How to get your Cat comfortable with their carrier:

Ideally, getting your cat used to their carrier should begin when they are first brought home as a kitten.  The carrier should not be hidden away and should ideally become a regular resting place.  If your carrier has been used previously, make sure to clean it thoroughly with a non-toxic cleaner and leave it out in the sun for 24 hours.  This will help to remove any stress pheromone left behind from previous use.

Leave the carrier in a room where the cat spends a lot of their time.  If possible, remove the door so the cat does not get accidently trapped inside.  Place a familiar blanket or towel inside the carrier, too.  Using Feliway® spray on the bedding inside can help your cat to feel at ease in the carrier.  Feliway® is a synthetic version of a pheromone released by cats which helps calm cats and helps them feel more at ease and at home in a particular environment.  If your cat sits close to or goes to investigate the carrier, give them a treat. The aim is for them to associate the carrier with positive or favourable events.  Put treats inside the carrier to encourage them to go inside, and play with them near the carrier using a toy on a string, forcing them to touch and be near the carrier while they are in a happy mood.

It may take a number of weeks for your cat to become comfortable around the carrier, but keep persisting and constantly rewarding good behaviour.

What if you need to get your cat to the vet right away?

Getting your cat familiar with the cat carrier is great if you have the time to do it. However, sometimes you may need to get your cat to the vet in a hurry and may not have thought about getting them used to their carrier. 

Here are some tips on how to get a reluctant cat safely into their carrier without causing too much stress for you or your cat:

  • Put your cat in a room with minimal hiding places – the laundry or bathroom is often good for this.
  • Get the cat carrier and pre-spray the bedding inside with Feliway®
  • Coax your cat into the carrier using toys, treats or their favourite food (unlikely to work but worth a try).
  • If your carrier opens from the top, or if the top can be removed, cradle your cat so that all four legs are tucked under them, and place them in the carrier. Use one hand to put pressure on their back while you place the top back on.  If your cat is very worked up and aggressive, you can use a towel (sprayed with Feliway® to assist you.)  Lay the towel flat on a table or floor and gently wrap your cat’s legs up, leaving their head out, and then place them in the top of the carrier.  You can also do this if your carrier only opens from the front, by placing the cat back end first into the carrier.
  • If your carrier only opens from the front, you can cradle your cat’s legs underneath them and place them in backwards (using your hands and arms if they are calm, as opposed to the towel above).

Always try and work calmly and swiftly when handling cats.

Which carriers are best?

The ideal cat carrier can be opened at one end and also be pulled apart at the middle.  Having the top of the carrier easy to remove means that nervous cats or cats in pain do not have to walk or be pulled out of the carrier.  The vet can often do most of the examination with the cat sitting in the bottom half of the carrier, which often helps to make the cat feel more at ease.

Make sure your cat carrier is sturdy and stable, and the right size for your cat as an adult.  They should have enough space to turn around, but not much more than that. The bottom of the carrier should be lined with an absorbent material – puppy training pads are ideal, or otherwise newspaper or a towel.

In the car, it is important that the cat carrier is secure.  You can secure the carrier with a seatbelt or by placing it on the floor in front of the seats.  It may help to cover the carrier with a towel or blanket, particularly when moving from the house to the car and from the car to the clinic.