Fear Free veterinary visits for the Feline
Despise going to the doctor or dentist? I bet that many of you reading this do. Not surprisingly, many of our four legged friends also fret about or sometimes even totally despise their visits to the clinic.
If the thought of taking your feline to the veterinary clinic is beginning to resemble a nightmare, or if you simply want to improve your cats overall veterinary experience then this article is for you.
To quote fear-free expert and veterinarian Dr Marty Becker:
Here are some simple strategies to improve your cat’s veterinary experience:
Low stress veterinary visits begin in the home:
Tools of the trade: get a suitable cat carrier. Get one which allows your cat to be accessed via the top. This avoids the need for you or your vet to “grab and drag” your cat out of the carrier in the exam room. A box carrier where the top half of the carrier can be simply clipped off, and the cat examined inside the crate is perfect. The best cat carriers for access via the vet have zip open tops. Although airline approved crates are a popular option for many pet owner, they are not the most stress free option for the exam option as it may be difficult to access your cat.
Know the weight of your crate (with a towel or blanket in it). This can often be written or the crate somewhere, or note it down in your smart phone.
Prior to your veterinary visit, it is a great idea to desensitise your kitten or cat to their carrier. Essentially we want your cat to associate the carrier with feeling safe and with positive experiences. (Blog post coming soon about Cat Crates Desensitisation). Most owners only use crate when their cat is unwell or needs to go to the vet, and this will not set the foundations for a great veterinary visit!
Following on from desensitising your cat to their crate, it is also immensely helpful to desensitise your kitty to car rides. For most cats, car rides equals a trip to the veterinary clinic and may have been associated with a negative experience. Periodically take your cat for short car trips paired with positive experiences
Spray your cats crate with Feliway to help have a calming effect on your cat 30 minutes prior to loading!
Be prepared on the day of your consultation. It may be a good idea to ensure your cat is indoors so you are not frazzled trying to find and chase your cat around.
Fasting your cat prior to the visit may help make treats for appealing. Delicious treats can serve as a simple tool to change the mindset of your pet from fearful and anxious to a more pleasurable one.
Smart Selection & Scheduling
Choose a cat friendly veterinarian. Speak with reception or nursing staff, and enquire whether there is a veterinarian who enjoys working with cats, and or has fear-free training. This does not necessarily need to be a feline only practice. Most general practices cater well to the feline patient!
When scheduling your appointment, ask the nursing team to schedule your cats appointments at quieter times of the day or when there are less noisy dogs around. Scheduling your cat’s appointment at quieter times of the day may also mean less risk of having to wait to see the veterinarian.
In the waiting room help your cat feel safe. If feasible place the carrier up high, facing away from other animals. Or provide some covering with a towel which has been sprayed with Feliway. If it is possible, ask the nursing staff whether you can wait in an exam room away from all the hustle and bustle.
Feeling frazzled or perhaps stressed yourself? Try and remain calm and neutral. Your cat may sense if you are frazzled and may become more anxious themselves.
For cats who experience profound stress or fear, then it would be best to speak with your veterinarian about pre-visit medications to minimise panic and alleviate anxiety.
In the room
Place the crate up on the exam table and open the top of the crate, allowing the cat to come out on their own terms.
Reward all calm and relaxed behaviour with praise in a quiet voice and use their favourite treats.
The examination should be performed where your cat is most comfortable. For many this is inside the bottom of the crate. But other cats may be more confident on the floor or on your lap.
Your veterinarian may take a “less is more approach” to handling your cat in the examination room. The vet may use a minimal restraint approach which can work best. Additionally, for some cats the use of a soft blanket or towel to provide an opportunity for your cat to feel less expose and provide a “hiding spot for protection”.
If your cat is simply too distressed, nothing is gained by proceeding with the veterinary team or procedure. This will have detrimental effects on your cats emotional state as it can be terribly traumatic and in the future this will make future veterinary visits even more difficult.
Let's pledge fear free for all future feline veterinary visits!
Dr Lucy xx