Low Stress Travel to the Vet With Your Cat

White cat in a carrier
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Veterinary visits are a vital part to our cat’s care. Many cats find traveling and carriers to be an unpleasant experience. Most cats don’t have much experience with traveling and when they do, it isn’t positive, so it makes sense why many cats are not fans of traveling. Although, travel can be stressful, there is a lot you can do to make traveling and carriers less stressful and even enjoyable for your cat(s)!

It All Starts at Home

A successful trip to the vet starts at home with training your cat to like the carrier. The first step is choosing the right carrier for your cat. The carrier you choose for your cat should be large enough for the cat to stand in and turn around and should have easy access to exit and entry ways. A carrier with both top and front openings, or one with a large round opening will help you get your cat in and out of the carrier more easily. The carrier should have the ability to be taken apart since this is how cats should be removed from their carriers’ verses pulling them out and allows them to be examined in the bottom of their carrier if they are fearful. Lastly, the carrier should be secure and sturdy. 

Making the Carrier Positive and Training Your Cat to go in It

You purchased the perfect carrier for your cat, the next steps are to help your cat associate the carrier with good things. This way it’s not seen as the scary box that only comes out of the garage when they go to the vet. Here are some tips on how to help your cat love the carrier. 

  • Leave the carrier out in a place where your cat likes to spend time which in most cases are where you spend time. By integrating the carrier into your home, it becomes a resting area instead of a scary traveling cage. If your cat is afraid of the carrier, I would recommend just starting with the bottom of the carrier and slowly adding the top and cage door. 
  • Place treats, catnip, and toys in the carrier. This will encourage your cat to enter the carrier while they’re still at home. You can also play with your cat around their carrier to help create a positive association too. 
  • Place familiar bedding in the carrier. All the smells of home will be in the carrier, which will make it feel like a safe place. Also, try placing something with your scent inside.
  • Reward your cat for going into the carrier. Make sure to have your cats’ favorite treats nearby so you can give her one as soon as she goes into the carrier on her own. 
  • Be patient. Do not force or chase your cat into the carrier, allow the cat to choose to go into the carrier on their own and reward that behavior. 

Ideally, we would work on creating positive associations with the carrier but in cases, where your cat needs to go into the carrier for a vet visit. You should use food and toys to lure the cat into the carrier so it’s their choice to enter. If you need to place your cats in the carrier, instead of forcing them through that small door, which does not go well for you or the cat, you should take the carrier apart and gently place the cat into the carrier. 

Prepare the car so it Promotes a Calming Environment

We all have our own way of preparing for stressful events. Some of us may meditate or listen to classical music, while others may take a run around the block or rock out to heavy metal music. Our cats are no different, but they rely on us to make their environment calm. Here are a few things you can do to make kitty’s ride less stressful.

  • Play classical music specifically composed for cats and/or purring sounds. Through a Cat’s ear and purr apps are great options.
  • Spray feliway, a calming pheromone, in your car and/or the carrier 10- 15 minutes prior to your cat entering. 
  • Be calm and remember for cats that "shhh!" sounds a lot like hissing, so try to avoid shushing if they are vocalizing.
  • Cool or warm the car to comfortable temperature before putting your cat inside.

Practice Proper Cat Carrier Etiquette

Yes, there is proper etiquette that should be followed when carrying your cat in their carrier! When you transport your cat, you should support the carrier from the bottom, with one side resting against your chest verses by the handle. Your cat does not want to go on a roller coaster ride! Carrying the carrier in this manner helps your cat to feel more stable and secure. Carrying a carrier from the bottom is also safer and prevents the carrier from falling apart and the cat accidentally getting loose.

Properly Secure the Carrier in the Car

Many cat owners may be tempted to place the carrier in the passenger seat and use the seatbelt to secure it. While we may think our cat will feel more secure near us, this isn’t the safest option. Instead, we should place carriers on the floor of the vehicle behind the front or passenger seat. This area is the most secure location where there is the least amount of motion.  

Prior to leaving, place a feliway infused towel over the carrier, leaving one side uncovered. This allows the cat to hide if they want to and limits visual stimuli. You should also place a non-slip surface in and under crate. Lastly, when driving, to prevent car sickness, accelerate slowly from a stop, allow extra distance between other vehicles to prevent sudden braking, and take turns slowly. 

Remember, it is dangerous to allow your cat to walk around your vehicle unsecured. This can interfere with you driving and cause an accident.

Avoid Feeling Rushed

Before your visit, be prepared with your cat's medical history. It's also a good idea to leave a little early so you have plenty of time to arrive as scheduled and avoid feeling rushed. When we're rushed, we tend to be more stressed and anxious, and our cats pick up on these emotional cues.
Notify the Veterinary Hospital Team When You Arrive

Rather than bringing your cat directly into the veterinary hospital when you arrive, call the front desk and let them know that you are in the parking lot. This way they can call or text you when the exam room is ready. This will help prevent the stressors that can occur in a lobby (dogs barking, dogs walking by sniffing the carrier, etc).

Cats need five to ten minutes to adjust to their new surroundings and feel safe. If you cannot avoid waiting in the lobby, place your cat’s carrier on an elevated surface & cover the front and two sides with a pheromone-infused towel.

You can also speak to your veterinarian about scheduling your cat’s appointments during quieter times of day. With fewer people in the building, there will be fewer potentially scary sounds, scents, and sights for your cat. 

Along with the tips above, you can train your cat to go in their carriers on cue and happily accept riding in the car breaking the behavior down into small steps and increasing criteria at a pace the cat is comfortable with. Also, if you cat experiences severe stress with travel, talk to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety and anti-nausea medications. 

Article Sources
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  1. Lloyd, Janice. Minimising Stress For Patients In The Veterinary Hospital: Why It Is Important And What Can Be Done About ItVeterinary Sciences, vol 4, no. 4, 2017, p. 22. MDPI AG, doi:10.3390/vetsci4020022