By: Dr. Janice Floyd, DVM
Cats are America’s most popular pet, but they average less than half of the doctor’s visits than dogs. It isn’t that cats don’t get sick as often as dogs, but they are much better at disguising illness. Also, cats can be more difficult to take to the veterinarian. The process can be made easier for both of you, and while it is best started with kittens, an older cat can be trained to accept the carrier as well.
The first step is getting a carrier. Choose one that makes it easy to get your kitty in and out of it. This can be a hard plastic carrier with a top opening or latches that make it quick to remove the lid from the carrier. Another option is a soft fabric carrier, but it should be substantial enough to not sag in on the cat.
Once you have selected your carrier, keep it out all the time so your cat sees it as just part of the furniture and not a harbinger of doom. Start a positive association between your cat and the carrier by giving treats in the carrier and/or feeding in the carrier. It can be easiest to initiate your cat to the carrier by keeping the lid off of it for awhile before completely assembling it. If your cat is reluctant to enter the carrier box, then start slow by placing the treats near the carrier door and then gradually moving the food further inside over a period of days to weeks. You don’t want to rush the procedure and create anxiety for your cat!
Keep soft blankets or bedding in the carrier to help your cat see the carrier as a nice place to rest. Toys can also be used to direct the cat to jump in and out of the carrier and be relaxed around the carrier. You can use a treat and a command like “inside” or “kennel” to train your cat to go inside the carrier, so she is willing to enter the carrier on her own.
The next step is to help the cat be accepting of being secured inside the carrier. With the cat inside the carrier eating a treat or resting, gently and smoothly close the carrier and take a few steps with the cat inside then open it. Over time, increase the length of tours in the carrier in the house and then venture outside for awhile. Next take the cat out to the car in the carrier as if you were actually going on a trip, but don’t turn on the engine. Make this positive by giving special treats through the front of the carrier. As long as your cat remains relaxed at this point, you can proceed to a short drive.
Tips to help with the car ride include using a feline pheromone in the car and carrier to help calm during the trip. This should be applied at least 10 minutes prior. Avoid a large meal prior to a car ride to help prevent car sickness. Keeping the radio volume low and the windows up will minimize frightening sounds. Talking in a calm, quiet voice in the car will give some reassurance to your kitty that you are relaxed and nearby. Some cats may feel more secure with a towel or blanket draped over the carrier to reduce visual stimulation.
Remember, with cats, go slow to go fast. Now you are ready visit your veterinarian!