Posted on: April 29th, 2016 by Dr. Dale Rubenstein

Does your cat get so anxious when you come for a veterinary visit that you almost don’t want to come at all? Does he or she howl all the way over here or get angry during the exam? We completely understand how this can make you upset as well. But de-stressing veterinary visits for cats could help make this a more pleasant experience for everyone. How can we do this? Read on…

George and Meatball’s Story
George and Meatball are handsome, almost 2-years old littermate black and white cats. During their kitten visits for exams, vaccinations and deworming – routine preventive care – they were more curious than afraid. We could distract them with food treats and toys to chase, and we minimized the time on the exam table (or had them sit on our “kitty hammock” so they could look out the window). They weren’t sure what was going on, but it didn’t seem too bad.

Fast-forward one year and we had a totally different picture, which makes perfect sense to those of us who work with cats. A visit to the veterinarian for an adult cat means: being put in a cat carrier, then riding in a car, then coming into a strange place with strange smells. What adult cat wouldn’t be alarmed? And, whereas some cats are more easy-going (or don’t fight but just “freeze”), George and Meatball were of the “stand and fight” personality.

With their owner’s permission, we ended the visit and rescheduled for the following week. Most importantly, we sent home a dose of anti-anxiety medication to be given 3 hours prior to the visit. We sent home “pill pocket” treats, which work to administer pills to some cats, and in case that didn’t work, we also sent home a syringe with the tip cut off. The owner could mix meat baby food (i.e. Gerber’s 2nd Foods chicken and gravy) with the pill and then use the syringe to squire the mixture into the cat’s mouth.

When they returned for their exams, Meatball was still growling but with none of the fear-based anger he had shown previously. Quietly and with the help of my skillful technicians, we were able to perform their examinations, administer their vaccinations and even trim their nails. (As with many cats, they hate having their paws held; I always wonder if this is because their natural instinct is to run and when their paws are held, they feel like they can’t escape.) This experience was a vast improvement over the previous visit! While we felt that we likely would repeat the medication when they were due to come back following year, they didn’t have such a strongly negative experience that they would have been even more upset in the future.

So if your cat gets agitated, please talk to your veterinarian or let us know when you are scheduling your appointment so we can dispense some anti-anxiety medication to be given prior to your office visit. When your cat is less anxious, it is less stressful for you and the veterinary care team as well.

A quick note about the carrier: we recommend leaving the carrier out at all times so your cat can get used to it. I also give my cats a treat in the carrier daily, so that they have to walk in to the back of the carrier. They are a bit suspicious after their trip to my hospital, but knowing they’ll get a treat, they will walk in as soon as they get home (yes, they get an extra treat that day).