by Amanda L. Maus DVM
Catalina Pet Hospital
What makes it so difficult to get a cat to the vet's office?
Most cat owners often wait until right before they need to leave for their appointment to try to get their cat into the carrier. They also tend to keep the carrier tucked away in a closet away from the cat most of the time. More than likely, the cat will only associate the carrier with having to ride in the car and going to a vet's office. For a cat, the carrier can be a very scary trap that they want to avoid at all costs! How can we make it easier to get our cat to the vet's office? Here's a list of potential challenges and their possible solutions:
1. Problem: Hides when time to get into the carrier
Solution: Plan ahead. Permanently or at least for a few days prior to the appointment, leave the carrier out in a small room without furniture to hide under, or a central area where the cat spends a lot of time. On the day of the appointment, calmly close off the doors to all other rooms. Use the sound of shaking a bag of treats or opening a can of food to bring your cat to you. Place the cat gently in the carrier.
2. Problem: Difficult to get into carrier - can't get all 4 feet in
Solution: Consider a different type of carrier - perhaps even a dog one! Plastic carriers tend to be best due to their durability. A carrier that is too small or one that does not have a way to open the top of the carrier can make loading a cat difficult. Mesh bag carriers tend to collapse down when attempting to put a cat in it. In addition to brand new carriers purchased online or at the pet store, you can sometimes find great deals on used carriers at yard sales or flea markets that just need some cleaning and sanitizing.
3. Problem: Difficult to get into carrier - tries to scratch or bite
Solution: In addition to the above solutions, for weeks prior to appointment, try to acclimate the cat to the carrier through use of treats and toys. Use feline pheromone spray to make the carrier more appealing. If possible, work towards a daily routine where the cat enters the carrier of it's own will as part of play or a treat reward system, with the idea that on the day of the appointment, you can just close the door. If you are unable to acclimate the cat to the carrier, consider getting a tranquilizer medication from your veterinarian to administer to your pet.
4. Problem: Flimsy carrier - cat escapes!
Solution: Again, hard plastic carriers tend to be best. Cardboard and mesh carriers can be destroyed by a motivated cat, which can be scary if the cat escapes outside or in the car while you are driving.
5. Problem: Meows incessantly or pants in the carrier
Solution: If the cat has become acclimated to the carrier at home using the above advice, consider placing a calming collar on your cat before putting them in the carrier. Use a blanket with your cat's scent or one of your old t-shirts to line the bottom of the carrier. Preheat or chill the car ahead of time so that the cat will not be too hot or too cold. Secure the cat carrier in the car, using a seat belt if needed. Play soft music, talk quietly, and avoid sudden stops while you drive.
6. Problem: Urinates/Defecates/Vomits in carrier
Solution: If the cat has become acclimated to the carrier at home using the above advice, consider fasting the cat for a period of time before your appointment. Ask your veterinarian for guidelines based on your cat's age and health.
You can find additional tips in a helpful brochure produced by the American Association of Feline Practitioners here.