A Fear Free Vet Visit for Cats Starts at Home

To truly change the dynamic of cat veterinary visits, we will need your help! There are things you can do to begin the process of decreasing your cat’s anxiety and avoiding those dreaded car rides with a howling, stressed out kitty.

The classic story of finding and then wrestling a cat to get him into the carrier is the exact opposite goal of Fear Free. One thing we know about cats is they need safe spaces. This is the opposite of dogs, who need safe people. So, get ready for a lot of discussion about carriers.

Oakview Vet - Plover Stevens Point WI
Teach your cat to love her carrier!

What kind of carriers do cats prefer?

For cats, so much is about the carrier! It may surprise you to know that scientists have done studies on how cats prefer to be transported. So, we know A LOT about what your cat needs to feel safe. The scariest way for a cat is to carry them in your arms. They do not like being loose in the great outdoors, there are lots of scary things out there!

So, what kind of transportation do cats prefer? First, most cats do not like soft sided carriers! They are flimsy and more likely to keep a cat off balance. A cat wants a hard sided carrier with a non-slip surface inside. We also know cats REALLY don’t like swinging! Regardless of what kind of carrier, it is important to carry it from the bottom, not the top.

How to carry a cat carrier
How to properly carry a cat in a carrier

Something your vet and your cat will appreciate is a hard sided carrier where the top opens easily, like the one pictured above. Oftentimes, we can do everything needed in the clinic with your cat comfortable in her carrier bottom.

Now for the hard part. Getting kitty in the carrier! We are challenging you to do this differently! Take your cat’s cozy, hard sided carrier, and put it out in your house. No more storage in basements, garages, and attics. This is supposed to be your fur babies safe place, let’s make it so! Make it cozy with catnip, treats, and toys, then….wait. And wait some more. Cats take their time with changes, so it could be as long as several months before they enjoy using their carrier to relax in at home. Once this is accomplished, you will be shocked at how your cat’s car ride and vet visit changes!

Oakview Vet - Plover Stevens Point WI
This cat’s carrier is his safe place, so he is quiet and calm while riding in it

Let’s review recommendations for carriers:

  • Use a hard sided carrier where the top comes off easily
  • Put a non-slip surface inside
  • Carry it from below, cats don’t like to swing!
  • Cover the carrier so your cat can only see out the front
  • Use Feliway before travel
  • Put the carrier in the common area of your home and make it tempting

Car travel with anxious cats

Now you have the appropriate carrier and your cat is calmly waiting in it. Remember to carry the carrier from the bottom to give as much stabilization as possible. Spray Feliway in the car about 10-15 minutes before leaving.

Basic safety dictates that your cat is safely restrained in a carrier and ideally placed on the floor behind the front seat. Cover the carrier so your cat is not overwhelmed by passing cars and scenery.  If you put the carrier on the car seat, face it forward and use a book to prop up the back end so it is level.

During the ride, we recommend calm, quiet music. Only classical music has been shown to reduce stress in cats.

Fear Free check in

Once you arrive at the clinic, feel free to “check in” with the front desk from your phone if you like! We offer a “concierge” service so that you and your pet can wait where you are comfortable until we have a room ready. Then we can escort you directly to a room without all of the chaos of the lobby! Just let the receptionist know that you have arrived and are in your vehicle – we will take it from there!

Our goal is to make every veterinary visit a Fear Free one!

Our next post we will discuss how we use Fear Free techniques here in the clinic. Get a headstart on our website.

Watch videos of low stress procedures on our YouTube page.

If you missed our initial post explaining Fear Free, go to What are Fear Free Vet Visits?

Dr Lisa Karnitz - Oakview Vet Plover Stevens Point WI
Dr Lisa Karnitz is the newest vet on our team, and bravely led the charge to become Fear Free Certified! We love her for her patience, her helpfulness, and her smile!

Final Thoughts from Dr. Karnitz:

Cats are especially challenging. I often think about how cats must feel when they leave their house once a year, enter a noisy, moving vehicle and a noisy, smelly clinic, and then get examined by strangers. When they return home their housemates think they smell funny and sometimes treat them differently.  That would create anxiety in the most laid back person if this was their experience, too.  By utilizing the above mentioned tools and occasionally taking your pet for a car ride that is an enjoyable experience, then you can teach your kitty that cars and vets aren’t something to fear.

Oakview Pet Gazette Vet Blog - Plover WI
| OVMC Staff

Oakview Veterinary Medical Center is a progressive clinic located in Plover, WI. Our veterinarians and staff have lots of wisdom and personal stories to share. We are friendly, compassionate, and engaged with all species!

2 thoughts on “A Fear Free Vet Visit for Cats Starts at Home

  1. I really appreciate a lot of the tips that you have given in your article about fear free vet visits! I have one hold out, and that is my 10 year old female. I have tried leaving the cat carriers in the house, I put treats in them I put catnip in them I put toys in them. My other cats have no problem with walking right in and laying down. Minuet is a different story. She hides in my bedroom under my bed and only comes out at mealtime for as long as the carriers are left in the house. I guess maybe if we had started younger for who knew?

    1. Hi Linda! We are sorry to hear about Minuet. We have a few suggestions. First of all, we wonder if the other cats have marked the carriers as theirs. So, you can try getting a brand new carrier just for Minuet. Spray it every day with feliway and put it where she can easily access it but the others cannot. Take the top off the carrier as well. If you are still having trouble, call us before Minuet’s next appointment. Thanks for visiting our blog!!

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