So Why Not the Carrier?!? Part 3 of 3

Jul 18, 2012 by     1 Comment     Posted under: Tips & Advice

You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

To overcoming barriers to taking cats to the veterinary clinic, we need to better understand the cat and why they react as they do, reduce the stress of transporting the cat, and making the cat and the client more comfortable at the clinic.  The benefits include increased cat visits and client compliance, increased job satisfaction and safety, and a financially more successful practice.  It’s not enough anymore to have excellent surgical and medical knowledge – our clients don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care – for them and their cats.


Cats have retained many behaviors of their wild ancestors. They are excellent hunters, with a strong ability to sense and avoid danger. In order to protect themselves, cats don’t display pain and illness as dogs and humans do.

Cats don’t like change – unless it is something they choose to do. Trips to the veterinary hospital, the hospital environment, and handling by unfamiliar people are huge changes for cats.

Cats are social animals, though their social structure is different from humans and dogs. If sufficient food resources, cats choose to live in social or colonies. Females live together cooperatively, nursing and raising the young. Cats choose affiliates with whom they are social.

The cat’s perceives its world through its senses, most of which are highly sensitive compared with ours.  Cats also communicate with their senses, providing scent marking, visual and auditory cues. The primary goal of cat communication is to prevent altercations; cats fight only as a last resort, when other communications have failed.

Sarah Heath:  One of the important feline coping strategies in terms of social stress is to hide and in many modern multi- cat households this is often not possible due to the human preference for floor to ceiling furniture and open plan rooms! Lack of access to retreats can result in cats feeling exposed and vulnerable and when coupled with insufficient supply of other vital resources, such as food and water, the result can be chronic stress which leads to self directed behaviours such as over grooming.

Let’s now develop a plan for one of the more challenging situations that you as cat owners have – getting your cat to the veterinary hospital.  We know that veterinary care is tremendously important for your cat, but how do we make the visits more familiar and allow the cat to have control?  It’s actually not that hard if we remember to follow the Happy Cat Rules, and break our plan down into steps to help our cats have what they need to cope.  And the underlying concepts can be used with any care at home, and when introducing your cat to new situations or people.

The absolutely most important step is to bring your carrier out of the basement, garage, or closet, and move it permanently to a room where your cat likes to be.  For example, the cats that “own” my husband and me hang out in the kitchen when we are home, and their carriers are in the kitchen.  Place a fleece jacket – or other soft piece of clothing that has your scent on it, or a blanket or soft cat bed that your cat loves to sleep on, into the carrier.  This provides a comfortable place for your cat to rest, and a safe haven – cats feel more secure if they have a hiding place in unfamiliar situations.

It may take awhile for your cat to get used to the carrier because of previous negative experiences associated with it.  Remain calm, and toss some favorite treats – either dry kibble or food treats that your cat likes, or catnip – into the carrier every day.  If you need to use treats, use the most favorite ones, and only for the carrier experience, at least until your cat comfortably rests or sleeps in the carrier on its own.

If your cat is afraid of the carrier because of previous negative experiences, start by tossing the favored treats in front of the carrier.  Then walk away.  Let the cat choose to go into the carrier itself.  He or she may start at night, when they know that you cannot close them into the carrier – that is a success!  It may take 2 weeks, but if done calmly on your part, it can lead to a calmer and more content kitty in our busy households, and less stressful travel and veterinary visits for your cat – and you!

Once your cat is routinely going into the carrier, calmly close the door and give a treat.  After several days of this, close the door and move the carrier to another room.  Reward.  Eventually, get your cat comfortable with car rides, and “friendly” visits to the vet, where your cat can get treats and go home.  It’s best to call before you come to schedule a time when it isn’t too busy so that it will be easier on your cat.

Bring favorite treats and toys whenever you bring your cat to the veterinary hospital.  Again this helps with familiarity.  Also it allows you to calmly distract your cat from other things happening at the vet.

Make sure to separate your cat from unfamiliar cats while at the clinic.  Although cats are social animals, with some more outgoing than others (like people!), even the most curious and outgoing cat is likely to be frightened by others in an unfamiliar environment such as the veterinary hospital, where there are unfamiliar smells, sounds, and sights of unknown cats and people.

Try to remain calm yourself to help keep your cat calm.  Cats are intuitive, and they pick up on our fear and anxiety.   Also, watch your cat’s body language for signs of fear – ears back, even if slightly; pupils dilated; body tense, fur standing up, or crouching position – and calmly cover the carrier to allow your cat a comfortable and familiar hiding place.

If your cat is still anxious during car rides or veterinary visits, talk to your veterinarian about Feli-way, a synthetic feline cheek pheromone, which helps calm most cats and makes the an environment more familiar.  There are also anti-anxiety medications that can be prescribed, or anti-nausea for the car sick kitty.

Dr Ilona Rodan

Dr. Ilona Rodan, ABVP Certified in Feline Practice
Medical Director and Owner, Cat Care Clinic, Madison, WI
Feline Behavior Consultant

Dr. Ilona Rodan has been a leader in the field of feline medicine for more than 25 years. She started the Cat Care Clinic in Madison, Wisconsin in 1987 to provide the best feline health care individualized to each patient in a compassionate environment that is more comfortable for cats and cat lovers, and where cats are better understood and handled in a respectful manner. With her extensive knowledge of feline behavior, she also understands the cats’ needs at home, and strives to enhance and prolong the relationship between cats and the people who love them. Our clients frequently tell us that our knowledge and caring has increased their cat’s length of life, often by several years.

When Dr. Rodan is not practicing and teaching at the clinic, she lectures internationally
and writes about feline-friendly hospitals, cat behavior and prevention of behavior problems, and recognizing and treating pain in cats. She has been active in the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) since 1982, and has served in every office, including President. She is most proud of her accomplishments in helping to establish guidelines for feline medicine, which include retrovirus testing, vaccinations, senior care, feline life stages, behavior, pain management, and feline handling guidelines (the latter published in 2011). Dr. Rodan was also an ambassador in the development of a specialist category in feline medicine.

In 1995, she became one of the first board-certified feline practitioners. Her hospital is an AAHA-Accredited Feline Specialty Hospital. She and her team are involved in community service, including free spays and neuters for Friends of Ferals. Dr. Rodan also lectures to the public and staff members of the local shelter, Dane County Humane Society.

Dr. Rodan received the national Friskie’s award for outstanding accomplishments in feline medicine in 1998. In 2005, she was chosen from 70,000 veterinarians to receive the most prestigious award given to a veterinarian, the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Animal Welfare Award, This award was given to Dr. Rodan for her work locally and nationally to enhance the welfare of cats through medical and behavioral advancements, and her contributions to community and society. Dr. Rodan’s passion and desire to help both cats and their people is unwavering.

Dr. Rodan continues to be well trained by the two feline family members she lives with, their predecessors, and the cats she has treated for more than 30 years. They have taught her how to respectfully handle and work with cats, to understand that the needs of cat’s in their home is an important part of their healthcare, and to ensure that they have the best quality and length of life.

Cat Care Clinic
322 Junction Road
Madison, WI 53717

Phone: (608) 833-9750
Fax: (608) 829-0345

Facebook: Profile Page
Directions: Google | MapQuest | Yahoo!

More PostsWebsite