How to Conquer the Cat Carrier For Stress-Free Vet Visits

Getting your cat into a carrierWe've all seen the cartoons... A dutiful cat owner rounds up their cat for a visit to the vet, but the cat has no interest in getting into the carrier to go.

We get it. 

Getting your cat in a carrier and taking them to the vet can be stressful (and difficult) for both of you.

Unfortunately, this problem often results in owners only bringing their cats to see us when the cats seem sick. The issue with this is that cats hide their symptoms until they become critically ill. On the other hand, if your feline family member does develop health issues and they're detected early (because you bring your kitty for wellness visits even when they seem fine), treatment is likely to be less expensive and easier to manage - and possibly even be resolved! 


Regular Wellness Visits Are a Must

getting sick cats to vetYour beloved feline friend needs routine wellness visits so that you can have better and longer lives together. We do this by preventing health issues and detecting problems in their early stages. For kitties 1-7 years of age, we recommend annual visits. After 7 years, we recommend twice-yearly wellness visits, at a minimum. 

Imagine if the only time you took your cat to the vet is when they are sick and they have to come in no matter what. They feel horrible and have been forced into a carrier that they only see when they're being taken to the vet. You take them on a noisy car ride where they're being bounced around, and then they get to a new place with scary, new smells and scary, new people doing strange things to them.  This feels like an abduction to your cat, who may now be completely focused on fight or flight. Moreover, their stress response now makes it even more difficult to bring them in next time.

When your cat is in "get me outta here/escape mode", it creates a lot of extra stress that neither of you needs, especially when they have an illness or disease. Therefore, your first goal is to reduce stress wherever possible so that things don't escalate. This is accomplished with positive reinforcement and conditioning.


How Can I Get My Cat to the Vet Without a Struggle?

It will take time, ingenuity, and work, but it is possible. Your cat may never “enjoy” going to the vet, but there are many things that you can do to decrease your cat's anxiety and stress with each visit. This will help your cat adjust to having to go to the vet on a routine basis.  The key to this is to eliminate as many stressors as possible. The first indication that your cat knows something is up is when you bring out the carrier. So the first - and most important - step is getting your cat used to the carrier.


Why Do I Need a Carrier?

Make kitty comfy in the carrierIt is of the utmost importance to bring your cat to the vet in a proper carrier. From your front door to your car to the exam room, there are way too many devastating possibilities if kitty gets away from you. If you allow your cat to walk around your vehicle unsecured, they can easily get under your feet and cause an accident where you both get injured. If you are in the parking lot and your cat flips the switch to "get me outta here/escape mode", they can get loose and can escape into unfamiliar territory and end up lost forever.

If you actually make it into the building with your unsecured kitty, the  barking dogs and unfamiliar smells will have you holding your terrified cat who could panic at any moment (including with you).


What Kind of Carrier Should I Get?

cat carriers for vet transportWhen choosing a carrier, functionality should be your guide. You want to select a carrier that is sturdy, stable, and easy to carry. To ensure that the car ride is as smooth as possible, the carrier needs to be able to be secured in your car with the seatbelt, so that it is snug and stable. The best carriers are the sturdy plastic ones that open from the front and also the top. The top and bottom should come apart so that it is possible to examine your cat in the bottom half of the carrier if they are stressed out, in pain, or scared.

Depending on your lifestyle, you may need more than one carrier for your kitty. For instance, if you live someplace where evacuations are common (e.g., hurricane prone areas), you may want an "everyday" carrier for vet visits and another, somewhat larger one, for evacuations. (Think about it this way: if your cat is stuck in a carrier for hours, being able to stand up, turn around, and stretch is important! This is less vital on short trips to the vet.)


Create a Safe Carrier Haven

Now that you have your carrier(s), it's time to make it a place your kitty likes to spend time.

Before you start, get in touch with your inner Buddha. Cats can sense our anxiety or frustrations, which may cause them to become stressed and reluctant. Additionally, you should start as soon as you get your kitty's new carrier—not a couple of days before your appointment—as this will take time. Leave the carrier out in the open where your cat spends most of their time. Make the carrier your cat’s “retreat”. Place some toys, familiar bedding, or an item of your clothing that has your scent inside of the carrier. Put treats or catnip inside of it and check to see if it has been eaten or moved around. Use pheromone sprays such as Feliway. These sprays mimic natural feline scents that trigger cats to feel comfortable and secure. The goal is for your cat to learn to associate the carrier with positive experiences and to go inside of it on their own. This can take a couple of days or even weeks and, if it does not work. you may need to try a different carrier.

PRO-tip: NEVER scold or punish your cat. It does not work and will likely have the opposite of the desired effect with even more negative consequences for you. Remain calm, patient, and reward desired behaviors frequently. For example, if your cat goes in and out of the carrier or even stands next to the carrier, give a reward. A reward does not have to be a treat. Use what motivates your cat the most. It can be petting, brushing, or treats. And remember: whatever reward you use for habituating kitty to their new carrier should be continued whenever the carrier is needed for its intended purpose.

make cat carrier a happy place

Looking for more tips on how to make your cat's trip to the vet stress-free? Give us a call.


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