Frazzled Felines & Scaredy Cats

There are millions of cats in the United States – approximately 86 million owned cats compared to 78 million owned dogs. More than half of those cat owners say their cat hates the vet. There tends to be a lot of hiding, scratching, yowling and gnashing of teeth as soon as that carrier comes into view. Often times, the process of bringing cats to the vet is so stressful, pet owners opt out of going altogether.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) shares the following statistics:

  • Almost twice as many cats than dogs never visit the veterinarian.
  • Of the cats that do visit the veterinarian, they average 26% fewer visits than dogs.
  • 41% of cat owners visit the veterinarian only for vaccinations.
  • 39% of cat owners say they would only take their cat to the veterinarian if the cat was sick.


These statistics are alarming because cats need regular veterinary care! Cats are stoic and physiologically different than human beings. They are experts at hiding illnesses and will not always show pain, sickness or discomfort the way we might expect them to. By the time you start to see signs of illness, a disease might already be in advanced stages. This makes treatment more difficult, lengthy and more costly.
Today we’ll talk about some steps that you, the cat owner, can take to help make veterinary visits less stressful for you and your kitty.

The Carrier
For your cat, the carrier signifies a scary car ride, unfamiliar surroundings and a sensory overload of smells and sounds. This explains why your cat bolts the minute you retrieve it from storage. Ideally, you should start desensitizing your cat to the carrier at a young age, but it is never too late to make the carrier a familiar object. Find a quiet place in your home where your cat has 100% access and where you can keep the carrier permanently. Put a favorite blanket or an article of your clothing inside. Leave the door open. Let your cat nap inside it. Reward your kitty with treats when they venture into it. In their own time, your cat will come to accept the carrier as a normal presence. This may take days, weeks or months but the ultimate goal is for your cat to see the carrier as part of everyday life, something positive and familiar.

Develop a “Pre-vet” Routine
One of the best things you can do is give your feline regular head to tail “check ups” at home. Routinely run your hands along the length of your cat’s body, feeling for any bumps or lumps. If they’ll allow it, use your fingers to lift their lips to check their teeth. Try to make touching their paws an everyday activity. This will help your cat to get used to being handled and may make your veterinarians exam go much smoother.

Waiting Room Etiquette
The waiting room at the vet’s office may be the scariest part of the visit – dogs barking, other cats hissing, anxious humans, doors opening and closing. Bring a towel or blanket from home and cover the top of your cat’s carrier. This limits visual stimuli and the smell of home can be comforting for a stressed feline. DO NOT REMOVE YOUR CAT FROM THE CARRIER IN THE WAITING ROOM. Felines are solitary animals and highly predatory. They will feel safer inside the carrier (and will be less likely to scratch you in protest).

Exam Room No-no
Most cats do not voluntarily exit the carrier once the veterinarian is ready to examine them. Often times, cat owners will simply dump, shake or pull their cat out of the carrier. This is traumatic! It is best to remove the top from your carrier (or unzip it) and let the veterinarian do the majority of the exam within the carrier. If you need to remove Fluffy to weigh him or trim his nails, do so gently and slowly. Speak calmly and in a soft tone of voice, letting him know you are right there with them.

Consider Pheromonotherapy
Pheromonotherapy is a natural solution to stress related problems in cats and dogs. Pheromones are basically chemical “signals” used to communicate between animals of the same species. When our cats rub their faces on us or scratch up our furniture, they are using pheromones to mark their territory. The idea behind pheromonotherapy is that by using synthetic pheromones, we can reduce stressful situations (i.e. moving, bringing new pets into the home, or in this case, veterinary visits). For cats, we recommend a product called Feliway. It is available as a diffuser, a spray, and was recently introduced as a wipe. The pheromone in Feliway is a synthetic copy of the facial pheromone that cats use to mark objects in their environment. Try spraying the inside of your cats carrier with Feliway 15-20 minutes before use. For extended stays (such as a surgical procedure or kennel boarding), use a Feliway Diffuser at home for the cat’s return. Using a Feliway Diffuser will also help other cats in a multi-cat household, as the returning pet may smell and/or look different (bandages, collar, etc.).

Clearly, vet-related stress has caused some significant resistance in providing cats with routine veterinary care. In response, Rau Animal Hospital has been working with The American Association of Feline Practitioners to become a cat-friendly practice and ensure that your cat’s visit with us is a good one. Please give some of these suggestions a try, and give us a call if you have any questions or concerns. We need all paws on deck when it comes to making vet visits less stressful for our beloved felines!