Making Vet Visits Less Stressful

Tips for getting your cat - and you - to stay calm at the doctor's office.


It’s a perfect storm. Cats hide their illnesses very well; it’s often not clear that they’re sick until they’re at death’s door, which is why annual wellness exams are so critical. Through blood tests and other diagnostic workups, a veterinarian can detect problems even a very tuned-in owner might miss. Yet most cats do not like leaving the familiar environment of their home to be handled by a stranger, surrounded by cats and people they’ve never met and will probably never see again. They become so stressed that their owners become overwhelmed with anxiety themselves. So owners skip the veterinary exams. “My cat seems fine. Why put her through it?” And that, of course, ratchets up the risk that a health issue won’t be detected until it’s too late for effective treatment.

That’s one reason Americans spend about twice as much money on veterinary visits for their canine companions as for their feline friends, even though there are more pet cats than pet dogs in the United States. Furthermore, among cat owners, about 44 percent do not take their cat to a veterinarian for a yearly exam, according to a survey published by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Among dog owners, the same survey says, only 19 percent do not take their dog to a veterinarian.

It’s easy to understand why the owner of a cat who hides under the bed at the sight of the carrier, then hisses and scratches while being stuffed into it, would forego regular wellness exams. Here are some tips for making it easier. They were developed by the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the International Society of Feline Medicine and endorsed by the American Animal Hospital Association. They should make veterinary visits much more tolerable.

1|Choose a sturdy, hard-sided carrier that can be opened from both the front and the top, with the top half entirely removable from the bottom. That will avoid having to shove the cat in. A particularly scared cat can remain in a top-off carrier during an exam. The veterinarian can just reach in and do what she has to do.

2|Turn the carrier into a kitty den. Many cat owners use the carrier for vet visits only, so the cat associates it with something traumatic. Instead, turn it into a cozy hangout that your cat can access at any time. Outfit it with a soft blanket or pillow, a favorite toy, and a treat or two. It may take weeks, but your cat will finally explore his or her man cave or she shed.

3| Once your cat has become used to the carrier, gently carry her out to the car in it, secure it with a seatbelt so she doesn’t get jostled, and take a short trip around the block as a way of breaking the connection between the carrier and vet visits.

4| Stay calm. If you show stress, your cat will most certainly pick up on that and feel all the more stressed herself. Do some deep breathing if you have to.

5| Have your cat check out the vet’s office in advance of an exam. The staff can coo over her and adjust her to them. Then, a second visit, with all the poking and prodding, won’t be as alarming.

6| At the time of the appointment, if necessary, stay in the car with your cat (still in her carrier) and ask someone to come out and get you when it’s time for her exam. That way, she won’t have to endure all the strange animals and people in the waiting room.

7| Go with a vet who “gets” your cat. If your pet is feeling stressed and the doctor is not willing to stop the exam to give the cat a treat or pull out a toy for her, it’s probably not the right doctor. Some cats may even need mild sedation, and the doctor should not be unwilling to administer it.


  1. My vet prescribes gabapentin (capsule sprinkled on food in AM) for appointment 4 or so hours later. Works if she’ll ingest it.
    (one week later my dr. prescribed it for me !)

  2. I really liked your suggestion of having your cat with you while you check a veterinarian’s office in advance. My pet cat is one of the most unpredictable animals I have ever seen, as there are days when he would simply do nothing while other days would have him run around the house all the time. If I can find a veterinarian in the area, I’ll make sure we pay some preliminary visits to them so they know what my cat is like.

  3. If possible, take your cat to a Cat Clinic. They are hard to find, but I have the great fortune of living in two towns with a Cat Clinic. It is like walking into a chapel! No dog smells and the vets specialize in cat only care, so they are very familiar with many different presentations of disease in cats only.

    Gabapentin is a miracle for vet trips. My two brothers used to love to travel, but after some long travels, they both started hyperventilating. My vet had a nearby compounding pharmacy mail me 100mg of Gabapentin for vet visits. They are in tiny clear gel capsules, and you can use a Greenies pill pocket, or just pill quickly, and provide a turkey or chicken treat afterward. Do this two hours before car travel. The effects last for around 12 hours or less. My kitties get very sweet, roll upside down, and lick my arms in their carrier. The dose should be based on weight.

    I also ask my vet to allow me to stay in the car until they have an empty, quiet room ready for the exam to begin. They call me, and I bring the cats in, and it is like clockwork.

    Another great thing, is that I use sof-krate carriers for my cats. They come in green, and I leave two in the living room, and they match the decor. These are soft but sturdy carriers, and have openings on the top, the side and the front via zipper.

    My cats sit on top of the carrier, sleep inside, and I put soft towels on top and inside with catnip. They love them.

    In mixed clinics, many vets are not sensitive to the differences between cats and dogs. I never allow a “drop off” of my cat to any clinic. In Vet medicine, more vets are being trained to take vitals in a cat carrier like mine, with out needing to remove them for the entire exam. Temperature, palpable exam of abdomen, mouth and teeth and physical exam can be done in the carrier, and then taken out to be weighed, and see the cat visually. This really reduces the stress for the cats.

    I ask to take the cats to the car immediately following the completion of the exam, where they can be quiet.
    I return to pay the bill, and get the receipt and any medications or medical records.

    I wish more vets would take care to treat cats differently, and have separate cat and dog check in and exam areas, but this is not the case in most clinics.

    You can make the special requests as I do, and most vets are happy to help.

    Can I add that pilling can be really easy once you get the hang of it. If you approach from the back of the cat, and surround the cat quietly, you can distract with a treat in front of the cat, and then slowly open the mouth with the head back and direct the pill toward the back of the throat, close the mouth, and pet the chin until the cat swallows the pill, then give the treat immediately.

    Best wishes all you wonderful cat lovers!

    One last thing for new pet owners. Kibble is the cause of so many cat issues. If you want your cat to live a long life, start your cat or kitten, if possible, out on a wet food diet that is high in protein and low in carbohydrate. Yearly dental cleanings. This diet will prevent diabetes, urinary tract issues, obesity, and other illnesses.

    Over the counter canned cat food like NULO, Tiki Cat, Kiwi Kitchen, and Ziwi Peak are a few high quality cat foods that keep your cat healthy for life! Avoid the prescription diets, as they are literally worse than some over the counter diets.
    Stay away from kibble. If your kitten never discovers kibble, he or she will never know what they missed!

    Cats are carnivores and need a high protein and low carbohydrate diet with as little filler as possible. Limited ingredient foods, like NULO, will provide an excellent choice, and a healthy life for your kitty!

    I also suggest staying away from clay litter. It can expand in the stomach of the cat. The World’s greatest Cat Litter is good for the cat’s urinary tract, and is not toxic to the kitty. Always avoid scented litter. Natural litter is best without any chemicals or fragrances!


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