Get Your Cat to Like the Vet

Relaxing at the Vet

Keep Your Cat Calm at the Vet

Few things strike fear in the hearts of cat parents like a trip to the vet — and the result, too often, is that our cats get inadequate healthcare. In fact, cat advocacy group the Catalyst Council estimates that cats go to the vet less than half as often as dogs.

These tips will be easy with a kitten. With an adult cat, you follow all the same procedures, but you must go much slower:

  1. As early as possible in your cat’s life, get him used to different people and environments.
  2. Use a cat harness and leash to go out into the world, and give your cat treats and playtime in each new environment.
  3. Take practice trips to the vet once or twice a week — your cat won’t be examined, but you’ll give him treats and let him get used to the place. (See more about keeping your cat calm in the car here.)
  4. Make the cat carrier a positive place — leave it open all the time, filled with comfy bedding. Feed your cat in it and stick treats inside it often. (See more about keeping your cat calm in his carrier here.)
  5. Get your cat used to being handled the way the vet will handle her. While you’re at home and for just a few seconds to start, get your cat used to being scruffed, having her hindquarters handled, and lying on her back, so those won’t feel scary during a vet visit.
  6. Vets are people, too, and some can have varying levels of ease with cats. (After all, not everyone is a “dog” or “cat” person!) Make sure you go to a vet that spends some time talking with and getting to know your cat before jumping to the exam. You might even consider trying a cat-only clinic if you have one nearby.
  7. If you’re bringing your cat to the clinic, ask the clinic when the least busy times are and schedule accordingly. The less you have to wait, the better.
  8. Think about bringing a towel or yoga mat to put on the exam room table. Vets like stainless steel because it is very easy to clean, but it’s also cold and slippery. Giving the cat something to grip may make a big difference.
  9. Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM, who writes’s Veterinary Medicine column, suggests packing a goody bag with items such as treats, catnip, and your cat’s favorite toys. If your cat’s a hider, bring a towel that smells like home so she can have her head underneath it.
  10. Many vets recommend practicing touching your cat at home the way your vet might during a basic exam. “When your cat is at home, relaxed and happy, look in his ears; open his mouth — gently and only if you are sure of how to do it, and handle his paws — even introducing a clipper and tapping on a claw — to help make these health-exam basics less scary over time,” says Dr. Crosby.

Get the Most Out of Your Cat’s Vet Visit

Come Prepared
If you recently moved, bring a copy of your cat’s medical records with you. Write down any medications your cat may be taking and the dosage. When making an appointment, ask if you should bring a sample of your cat’s stool or urine.

Make a List
Write down all the things that concern you about your cat: hair coat, diet, exercise program, toilet habits, etc. This will help you communicate better.

Write it Down
Don’t be afraid to write down the information your veterinarian provides to you. Ask if there is a handout or a brochure containing more details.

Don’t Be Embarrassed
Your cat’s veterinarian is the other family doctor. There’s no need to feel awkward about asking anything or mentioning something that you’ve noticed. Your veterinarian wants to help keep your cat healthy and happy. Without your observations, important information may be missed.

Ask About Emergency Coverage
Find out the process for after-hours emergencies. If the veterinary hospital refers its patients to an emergency facility, be sure you know the address, phone number, and hours.

Types of Visits and Common Questions

New Kitten Visits
Owners of new kittens have many questions about litter training, diet, obedience, behavior, spay/neuter, and vaccination schedules. Your veterinarian is very experienced and comfortable with these questions.

Sick Visits
Write down the history of your cat’s illness. Did your cat stop eating? Is he vomiting? How often? What is he vomiting? Could he have eaten something he shouldn’t have? What might it have been? Was your cat in a fight with another animal? Has he recently been in a kennel? Did you change your cat’s diet recently? Veterinarians have to be detectives when it comes to diagnosing some diseases and the history you provide is very valuable and may help your veterinarian save your cat’s life.

Wellness Visits
Healthy adult cats still require a health exam. Ask which vaccinations are appropriate for your cat and inquire about seasonal concerns such as fleas and ticks. This is also a great time to discuss upcoming events that might affect your pet such as vacations and visitors.

Checkups for Senior Cats
If your cat is getting older, ask about your cat’s tolerance for exercise, how to recognize senile behavior, what to do about arthritis and other aches and pains, and if a blood panel is necessary to evaluate your cat’s blood and organ health.

Thundershirt: The Secret Trick to Try before Your Cat’s Next Vet Visit

Thundershirt, which is a partner of Petfinder, makes a shirt designed for dogs and now cats to help them relax and overcome anxiety and fear. The Thundershirt applies a small amount of pressure to the torso, which is believed to have a calming effect on the nervous system. It is essentially used the same way a parent uses swaddling to calm a newborn baby.

Try a Thundershirt to Improve Vet Visits

For some cats, a Thundershirt may make getting into the carrier easier and reduce the hissing, screaming, growling, and biting that accompany vet visits. A testimonial on Thundershirt’s website from Soren W., a Durham, NC-based veterinarian, says, “Thundershirt is helpful in terms of making the trip to the vet hospital and while at the clinic. We have seen that positive effect here with cats that we put Thundershirt on. They relax almost immediately from the stress associated with a vet visit. I even use the Thundershirt at home to help calm my cat while trimming his nails.” 

Last year, our own staff writer Joan wrote about her experience with Thundershirt for dogs and how it helped her dog with his fear of thunderstorms. Have you used a Thundershirt during your pet’s vet exam? Tell us about your experience!