Although cats are the most popular pet in the UK, us vets see twice as many dogs. Why?
It is likely to be due to the fact that, unfortunately, it is often a very stressful experience — for the owners as much as the pets.
Cats are completely different to dogs. They are very bonded to their own small territory and infrequently wander. This is because they are predators, but also prey animals and seek security in familiar places. They are often scared of larger mammals and avoid confrontation, opting to flee or communicate from a distance with raised hackles, loud vocalisation and clear body language.
Therefore, putting them into a carrier, taking them from their territory and putting them on a consultation table is terrifying. So what can we do to help?
Ideally, leave the carrier out all of the time at home. Leave it with the door off and in a safe, familiar area for your cat. This means it will smell of familiar things and won’t herald a visit to the cattery or vet when it materialises.
Often, cats will choose to sleep in baskets that are left out, meaning that closing the front is a stress-free experience. If you can’t leave the basket out, have a familiar blanket or bed that can fit into the carrier, and try to leave it out for a few days before needed.
Once in the carrier, it is helpful to cover the front with a towel or blanket, ideally one that is familiar. This stops cats coming face to face with a dog or another cat, which would cause distress. If there is a separate waiting area for cats, this is preferable, but certainly keep the basket off the floor and away from dogs.
Hopefully your vet will act in a cat-friendly way by being calm, quiet and kind. I often find it useful to keep a cat sitting on the blanket or bed they travelled in, or to remove the top of the carrier and examine them whilst they are still settled.
If they are anxious or beginning to get scared, often shown as aggression, a light sedation is a good alternative and can enable necessary investigations with minimal stress.
Pheromone sprays and oral capsules are useful as well. These are not prescription medications, but stimulate the release of endorphins (happy hormones).
So please don’t be scared of bringing your cat to the vet. The sooner we see a condition, the more likely it is that we can manage it.
By Catriona Gibson, Vet