3 Tips for a Happy Cat Vet Visit

It’s National Take your Cat to the Vet Week, which ranks right up there with Get Your Annual Prostate Exam Week and Pull Off Your Toenails Week on the fun scale. I know it’s not fun, for you or for the cat. It’s a necessary evil, one of our first lines of defense in catching disease processes early before they are crisis situations. In fact, most vets recommend taking your cat in twice a year, though we know from surveys that less than half of you take your cat in unless he or she is sick.

Do these visits actually accomplish anything? I asked my Facebook friends if they had ever taken their cat in for routine care and discovered an unexpected medical issue, and here’s what you said:

From Erin:

“My 10yr old kitty had some issues eating. I took her to the vet expecting to find out she had a dental issue. Unfortunately we found out she had a rather severe SSC tumor under her tongue. They got my permission and installed a feeding tube (E-tube). They estimated she would live for 2-4weeks. Amazing kitty that Maisy was, she lived, active and happy, for 4 1/2 months before we had to make “the decision”. With her diagnosis, E-tube, and well prescribed nutrition and pain management, she was able to do very well for much longer than expected. The best thing was that she was fairly well when my husband returned from his deployment. He got to spend two weeks with his girl.”

From Tabitha:

“We took my cat in for her check up and discovered early diabetes. it was pretty cool really. I think it saved her life.”

From Phil:

“A number of years ago, I took my cat Max, to the vet for his annual checkup and shots. Didn’t expect there to be any problems because he seemed normal. When the vet stated he looked pale, I wondered how a black & white cat could be pale. But, of course she was talking about his gums. I learned he had CRF and not long to live. I was shocked but thankful to have caught it and got him on Sub-Q LRS right away. I got to enjoy another 9 months with the most amazing cat ever.”

And a tip from Karen:

“My new kitty had to see the vet for a URI. He had been chipped at county animal and our regular vet said the chip wasn’t very deep and could slip around. He said that every time I go in ask the vet to scan him to make sure it is still reading the number where someone would expect it to be found. This may already be SOP for most offices — seems like a good idea to ask for a quick check of your pets’ chip at each visit.”

Despite these benefits, yes, it can be hard and stressful to get your cat in, and we vet types recognize that. Petfinder has a fabulous series of articles discussing the various ways you can maximize your vet trip efficiency. Last year I came up with my personal top tips for a good vet visit. Just to keep things hopping, here are my updated 2011 tips for getting the most out of the vet trip.

1. Have a cat and vet friendly carrier.

If you’ve ever had to shake a cat out of a rigid carrier or pry the stripped, rusted screws off some 1970’s metal crate because the whirling dervish of claws inside isn’t coming out otherwise, you will appreciate the value of a carrier whose top easily zips off. The Sleepypod cat carrier is by far my favorite kitty carrier ever. For simple exams I can unzip the top, do the exam, maybe give an injection, and zip kitty right back in without even needing to take them out. Going to the vet is stressful enough; might as well minimize stress wherever possible.

2. Have distractions.

A towel in the carrier. A little bag of catnip. A favorite toy. The finest culinary treats. None of these will change the fact that your cat is nervous, but little distractions can make a big difference in setting the stage for a successful visit.

3. Ask if you can call the vet later to talk about the visit.

I think this is particularly underutilized in our profession. If your cat just got diagnosed with diabetes, he’s yowling because he just had blood and urine drawn and you’re stressed out because you are faced with this major diagnosis, how composed are either of you really going to be during the discussion of what the next step should be? Tell the vet you need to take your kitty home, digest what you’ve been told, and ask to arrange a phone call later in the day when you can really talk about what all of this means.

Got a hot tip I missed? Share them below!


This post was originally published August 25, 2011.

Filed: Cats, Daily Life, Health Tagged: ,
  • Tonya

    I’m thinking the Busch carton is an awesome cat carrier (although it’s not my brand)! ๐Ÿ˜‰
    No good tips, but I’m proud to say that I just took Alley in for her annual exam, and her bloodwork came back perfect! As she gets older, I always half-expect to hear that she’s in the beginning stages of some issue. Not this year, thank goodness. If (or when) that happens though, we will definitely step it up to having a routine check twice a year. Now if we could just get rid of that mild IBD, we’d be set.

  • Rose D.

    We take our Eesa in twice a year, just to be safe, and half the time the Vet just unzips the top of the carrier to check her out. Although, she turns into such a monster for him, that if she does need to come out, she has to be bagged. Which is also OK, as it is much less stressful for her in the long run.

    • Leigh

      Not to butt in, but have you worked on desensitizing her? If the only time she goes in the carrier (or the car) is when she is going to be poked and prodded at the vet, the second she gets int he carrier, her anxiousness wil start to escalate. With dogs, that nervousness can be easily broken with a short walk, or treats once arriving at the vet… but with cats, once that escalation starts, it can take then 30 min to an hour AFTER the fearful stimulus is gone to even begin to calm down. That’s why by the time the cat is examined (which unfortunately continues the fear escalation) they are a raving mess. And they will NOT calm down at the vet office by that point.

      Anyway, desensitizing is something you can try so that your cat doesn’t start to escalate the minute they go in the carrier.

      1) leave the carrier out at all times, open with a comfy bed inside. Occasionally feed tuna, catnip or treats in there.
      2) Start by putting your cat in the carrier, walking outside, setting it down, picking it right back up, and taking the cat back inside and letting her out.

      3) Then increase to taking her in the car, closing the doors, then getting right back out and taking her inside.

      4) Increase this to a drive around the block, etc… til finally you go to the vet’s office.

      5) The first time, go in to the vet’s office, sit down for 1 minute, then get up and leave. The next time, ask the techs if you can take her out an weight her ONLY. Then put her back in, and take her home.

      Etc… etc… you see how you barely start to build the anxiety, and then it’s over. Also, if you do get to the point where your cat is -ok- at the vet, then we also recommend randomly doing one of the items on this list a few times a year. Then, your cat will always be surpirsed. When it sees the carrier, it won’t know if it’s going just outside, going to get an exam, just going to get weighed, or just for a ride. That confusion helps to lower the escalation point because the cat doesn’t -really- know what it’s in for.

      Anyway, just the behavior nerd’s take on your situation. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Great info! Thank you!

      • darchole

        Yes, but what if you’ve tried most or all of those things to “desenstize”? My cat is very hard to handle at the vets – which I tried to correct when he was a kitten – but it didn’t take (I used to take him to trips to other places). He gets in the carrier just fine, and is fine after the carrier is placed in the car, but is nearly impossible to handle when actually at the vets. Sedatives don’t work because he either becomes very hyper or comes out of them very hyper (won’t stop walking around even though uncoordinated).

  • Tamara

    We’ve already been to the vet several times this year, but we’re going again on Saturday, as I feel ‘the decision’ approaching. She’s almost 17.

  • Leigh

    If you can afford it, get bloodwork done every year. Since your cat can’t tell you how it feels, bloodwork can give you an idea of how all the internal organs are doing. You can possibly catch thyroid issues, CRF, diabetes… much earlier than if you wait until your cat shows symptoms. This is especially important once they are over 10 years old.

  • Solange

    i am lucky in that my three cats are pretty chill when they’re at the vet’s. the only issue for me is getting them into their carriers to begin with, but i’ve mastered that as well. what happens in the car is a bit different. they talk and yell so much it can be distracting. no matter how much “it’s okay baby” and “mommy is here” is said, my cats just freak out more. so my vet told me not to say anything back to them and keep calm since they are very attuned to our emotional state. he recommended filtering in some classic music during the car ride. i have to say this all works. they still talk a little out loud, but it’s no where as distressing and loud and miserable as it used to be!

  • I am very lucky my cats are harness trained and one of them LOVES THE VET. the other, not so much. He tucks in and rolls. The vet had to harness him and secure him to the wall. Well, Magoo did his death roll and pulled the hook OUT OF THE WALL.
    My only tip is to balance between being an advocate for you pet and accepting the advice and professional assistance of the staff. My cat who was diagnosed with diabetes does better when her ear is pricked for a glucose test then anywhere else. My other will only let someone look in her mouth if I am holding her. These things I advocate for, and sometimes these things can’t be done my way. I have learned to trust the staff and be thankful for their expertise.

  • jeanne

    funny, if i take my cat, scully in a carrier she turns into a tasmanian devil and carries on with the hissing and the scratching. but if i take her in a harness, where she can look out the windows of the car, explore the exam room and not feel trapped, she fine. she’ll hiss when a needle goes in, but that’s it. of course, most of the time she acts more like a dog…

  • Michelle S

    3. Ask if you can call the vet later to talk about the visit.

    My adopted boys are “frequent fliers” at the Vet because they are senior FIV+ cats. I can’t tell you how helpful “#3” would be to me, and could have been in the past. I’m one of those clients that wants (needs) to know everything from the current diagnosis, to the expected progression of a particular condition. More often than not, I find myself searching the internet late into the night for additional information.

    One of my boys, Simon, was traumatized during an emergency visit one weekend not too long ago, and hasn’t been the same cat since. I don’t know what happened, only that they took him in the back room to clean his ears. At his recheck appointment, he bit the Vet when she tried to look in his mouth. I have not been able to hand Simon to anyone since that day. Obviously, this is a HUGE problem for this particular cat with his medical issues.

    As far as the Sleepypod goes, I just love ours! We have the round one, and it was so calming for one of my boys; especially in his final months.

  • macula_densa

    I think Feliway spray on a towel inside the carrier can help cut down on the anxiety a bit, too. And, I second the desensitization mentioned above; for very anxious cats I think it’s important to do this.

  • -jeanne

    my cat, scully, hates to be in a carrier. if i use one to take her to the vet, she is miserable and hisses incessently. if i use a harness, however, she’s a happy little kitty that can watch out the car window and explore the vet office and exam room. she’ll hiss when the needle goes in, but that’s it. instead of being a horrible experience, it’s a little adventure where she just happens to get poked a couple of times.

  • Sarah Whitfield

    I have 2 felines (Lily & Daisy) & my girls hate going to the vet. However, a couple of weeks ago they went in for their annual exam & I decided to take my golden retriever, Charlee, along. He sat in between their carriers & even though they still meowed incessantly, they seemed to be a little bit calmer with Charlee next to them. I think they enjoyed the moral support & he kept any dogs at bay!