The International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) recommends a yearly check-up for all cats; with this increasing to six-monthly examinations for senior cats and those with ongoing medical conditions. However, the process of getting your cat into the carrier, getting them to the vets, enduring the waiting room and then the examination can all be stressful experiences for both you and your cat. So why do cats hate going to the vets, and can we make it an easier experience all round?
Top reasons why your cat may dislike the vet
If your usually placid cat turns into a spitting ball of fluff at the vets, or your super friendly kitty hides terrified under a blanket, you may be wondering why your cat hates the vets’ quite so much. Sadly, this is common and very understandable if you think about normal cat behaviour and experiences, and why a vet visit may be a stressful experience.
Here are some common reasons for your cat’s dislike.
1) Change to routine
The timing of a veterinary visit, and the need to have your cat ready to go in its basket at a set time may lead to a change in routine for your cat. You might have locked the cat flap so they can’t disappear for the morning, or perhaps withheld their breakfast from them. Perhaps you didn’t go to work at your usual time. Even small alterations to the norm can cause anxiety in our routine-loving feline friends, who are often very sensitive to change.
2) Leaving home
Cats are territorial animals, and being removed from their home turf must be disconcerting for them, at best. Cats spend a lot of time scent-marking their safe places. Being removed to a novel carrier, the car and outside their home environment will be confusing and stressful.
The actual journey is also often by car, which can make some cats nauseous or even physically sick. Lifting, moving and carrying cat carriers also necessitates a certain amount of jolting and bumping.
3) Smells, sounds, sights and touch
Veterinary clinics can be busy, noisy places, with lots of other animals, people and strange smells. Your cat may be touched by strangers, held in awkward positions or restrained when they want to be exploring. There may be dogs barking, an overwhelming amount of new and unpleasant smells and an unfamiliar room. This is all a lot to take in, and can cause stress or even defensive behaviours such as hiding or aggression.
Cats preferably like to be up high to gain a vantage point. So being placed on the floor in a carrier is not ideal. A carrier, or being held by a veterinary professional, also prevents the ‘flight’ option if they are scared or stressed. Lack of an obvious escape route can cause more anxiety.
5) Illness or pain
Hopefully, your cat will only visit the vet for routine health checks or vaccinations. But there may be occasions where you have to take your cat to the vet because it is unwell or injured. Feeling unwell being in pain will exacerbate any stressors, and often cause cats to respond more negatively to new experiences.
6) Previous experiences
There should always be effort made to ensure a cat’s visit to the vet is as positive as it can be. Sadly, some visits are due to pain or illness, and may leave a negative impression on your cat; which may alter their perception of repeat check-ups.
Why do I even need to take my cat for a check-up?
If your cat is injured or ill, it is an obvious step to take them in to see the vets. However, if your cat gets very stressed at vet appointments, it can be less clear to owners as to whether they benefit from them. However, regular check-ups are really important for pet health! They are an opportunity to discuss more routine matters such as dental care, diet or behaviour. Regular health examinations are also the best way of picking up on subtle or early illness, which may improve prognosis. These routine checks can also be a way to give your cat a more positive experience of the veterinary clinic.
Making vet visits more positive
The list of reasons why your cat may hate the vet is long, which can be very off-putting. Luckily, there are things we can do to help! Trying to make every veterinary trip as positive as possible will reduce stress for both you and your cat.
Here are our top tips for a successful vet trip.
1) Think timings!
This isn’t always possible for urgent trips, but try and book routine examinations so that your cat’s usual day is as undisturbed as possible
2) Accustom them to a carrier
Choose a carrier that is easy to use, sturdy and can be cleaned easily. Leave the carrier out in your home so that it is not a new and scary object when taken out for the vet visit. Place your cat’s blanket or familiar object in the carrier to provide some comfort and a reassuringly familiar smell. Cover the carrier with a towel to block out sounds and sights.
3) Take it slowly
Try to prepare in plenty of time so that you don’t have to rush. Allow your cat to settle in the carrier before carefully placing it in the car, making sure it is well wedged in and cannot move around. Drive slowly to the clinic.
4) The wait
Some clinics will have special quiet places for cats to wait – ask the staff if you cannot find a good spot. Ideally, a high shelf in a quiet area is best, away from the floor. If your cat is anxious in the waiting room, ask if you can wait in the car – if it isn’t too hot.
5) Talk to your veterinary professionals
All vets will want your cat to be as relaxed as possible, but if your cat does react negatively at the vets, do talk to the staff. Veterinary staff are well trained in animal handling and should be able to provide calm, gentle and reassuring touch to your pet. Some staff may have a special interest in cats or even have additional qualifications. Check out cat friendly clinics to know more.
Cats may not like the vets, for very understandable reasons, but there are ways to make these highly necessary trips more pleasant for all.