by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.
Surveys show that, over their lifetime, dogs make more frequent visits to see a veterinarian than do cats. Does this mean cats are healthier than dogs? Do they require less medical care than dogs? Well, many of those same surveys suggest cats go to veterinary hospitals less often, not for these reasons, but rather because their owners are reluctant to travel with them. Cats, in general do not enjoy travel and as you might expect, owners do not like to do things that cause their pet anxiety or stress. The problem with this, of course, is that cats may be missing out on the best of health care. Regular physical examinations and the benefits of wellness testing and other preventive health care measures are as important for cats as for anyone. Here then, are some things to try to help your cat have pleasant veterinary visits.
The use of a cat carrier is universally recognized as the best way for a cat to travel. Inside a closed, secure container, with good ventilation and air circulation a cat feels most comfortable and relaxed. It is also the safest way for both the cat and others with them, to travel. However, sometimes getting the cat into the carrier can be a great struggle for cat and owner. Try keeping the carrier out in the home. It is best not stored away, only to appear when the cat must be convinced to get inside and take a trip somewhere. When it is a more familiar sight, put some treats inside. Train your cat to view the carrier as a safe haven and 'home away from home'.
Carriers that have both a top and front opening are best. Top-loading carriers allow for more stress-free, lowering placement and lifting out removal of the cat. Cats will often be less resistant to a front opening entrance to the carrier, if the owner assists them to back into the carrier, rather than try to push them in head first. If the carrier top is easily removable, a veterinarian may be able to do much of an examination of the cat while it remains in the bottom half of the carrier.
It will also be less stressful for a traveling cat if it can be helped to adjust to car rides. Take the cat for regular car rides, very short ones when you start, and beginning when they are young, if possible. Try to go on trips that do not always end at the veterinary hospital.
If you avoid feeding your cat for a few hours before you travel with it, it will help reduce nausea or car sickness for your pet. Always reward good behaviour verbally, with positive attention and with treats.
A veterinary visit will likely be more pleasant if you can practice some of the following measures. Take along some of the cat's favourite treats toys or blankets with them to the clinic. Try to familiarize your cat with being handled and having things done to it. Home maintenance procedures, including grooming, nail trimming and teeth brushing, if accepted by your cat, will make a physical examination and handling in the veterinary hospital much less threatening an experience. It may be a good idea to perform some 'play vet' procedures with your cat at home. Mimic temperature taking, ear cleaning and giving a pill as a regular part of play and interaction with your cat. This will help the cat adjust to the real procedure if it becomes necessary in the veterinary hospital or as part of home health care in the future.
Regular trips to the veterinary hospital for 'fun visits' where no examinations or procedures are necessary may be a very good idea. If you are going to pick up food, make an appointment or visiting with another pet, take your cat along and it will allow a less upsetting visit. It may be very worthwhile for the cat to go along just to visit and hop on the scales for a regular weigh-in. With obesity being such a common health problem for pet cats, veterinarians recommend frequent accurate weight measurement, as part of a cat's health care. This allows an earlier response to a developing weight issue rather than to face the shedding of excess pounds by dieting. Such visits allow both owners and veterinary staff to reward the cat with praise and food treats, assuming weight is not an issue.
It is hoped some of these suggestions will make a 'win, win, win' situation for owner, veterinarian and cat when a veterinary visit happens.