How do I make the trip to the vet Fear Free for my cat? (PART I of II).

No matter how important the visit may be, making the trek to the vet can be stressful for most cats, not to mention their humans. In Part I, we will discuss helpful strategies to prepare for the car ride to help eliminate the stress and anxiety that many cats may experience. In Part II, we will discuss the ride itself and what to do once you arrive at the vet.

A useful calming tool that we use in everyday practice are pheromones. Pheromones are natural chemicals released into the air by an animal that convey powerful messages intended to elicit a behavior or certain response from animals of the same species. Cats release different pheromones into the environment from different areas of their body, sending messages of all types, which are indicative of their mood and intent. Most of us have observed a cat rubbing her face against objects in our homes. She is releasing a pheromone from their cheek glands to indicate that the object is safe or familiar. This “happy” pheromone has been synthesized and now bottled and sold to help control and calm cats in travel situations, as well as other stressful or unfamiliar environments. It can also be used as a tool to reduce other unwanted behaviors such as urine marking, scratching, over grooming, biting and more. The pheromones come in a variety of different applications, including spray bottles, cloth wipes, electric plug-in adapters for your home, and collars.

It is recommended you prepare for your cat’s appointment well ahead of time by making the cat carrier a “safe zone” as opposed to a dreaded transport contraption. For at least 3 to 4 weeks prior to the appointment, place the carrier in an area in your home where the cat already feels comfortable, such as a favorite napping place. Cats like to perch, so if possible, choose a surface that is higher up than the floor (a sturdy table or piece of furniture). Put familiar bedding, a blanket or towel inside the carrier to make it as appealing as possible and spray with the pheromone. The pheromone should be applied at least 15 minutes before exposure and be reapplied every 4 to 5 hours. Pay special attention to her when she is near the carrier. Give coveted treats to encourage her when she shows signs of accepting the carrier. You can leave treats in the carrier to entice her to enter the carrier on her own. Use a “top load carrier” when possible, to make it easier to get her in and out of the carrier when needed.

Eventually, your cat should feel comfortable entering the carrier. Some may even feel comfortable enough to nap in it. Once there is full acceptance of the carrier, it is time to graduate to transport. Stay tuned for our next section when we will discuss Fear Free transport methods for your feline family member.