Fearful Cats and the Veterinary Visit

Soothing an animal's anxiety can take time and patience. Here's some help in solving this problem.

Our cats do have it made; we humans want only the best for our feline companions. Much to the chagrin of the average cat, this care is likely to include at least one thing that just doesnt seem particularly enjoyable. I am referring, of course, to the veterinary check up.

Lets face it: Who really gets happily excited in anticipation of a physical examination? Even that lollipop at the end of the visit may not be enough reward. Would a bit of catnip at the end of the day make the experience worthwhile? Unlikely.

It is one matter to bring a slightly nervous cat in for an examination. That cat may be soothed by a towel. Some gentle restraint for a few minutes, and all is once again well. Go home, find the sunbeam, nap and get on with life.

Fear Can Be Dangerous

But what about the cat that is so frightened that he becomes dangerous? The family may be injured while attempting to collect the cat for the visit. The veterinary staff risks serious injury while attempting to restrain and examine the cat. And the cat may suffer both physically and emotionally.

Prevention is, of course, always the best approach. When a kitten is adopted, he should be handled on a daily basis by all friends and family members. He should be placed on a table for a daily examination. Gently manipulate all body parts, from the teeth to the toes, the ears to the tail. Practice gently restraining the cat as the veterinary technician will need to do. Include plenty of snack breaks so that the entire experience is nothing but fun.

If possible, bring the kitten to the hospital during their quiet hours. Ask the staff members to handle your kitten gently, and to offer plenty of treats, pets and play time in between. Perhaps your veterinarian offers a kitty kindergarten class. By all means, attend.

What can we do with an adult cat that is firmly committed to avoiding his examination? First, be sure that any treatment you attempt at home will be safe for you and the cat. If your cat did not permit you to restrain or examine him, please do not continue with this lesson!

If your cat is generally amenable to being handled in the home environment, and has not attempted to bite or scratch you at any time, then you may proceed. First, condition him to stand on a towel, preferably on a table, while at home. Each day, bring him there for some treats. If he loves to be brushed, brush him on the towel. Examine him yourself, then offer more treats. End each lesson with a happy cat.

Once he is eager to get to the towel for his private time, you may begin to practice gentle restraint. Hold him securely for a few seconds, release and treat. Then gently wrap him with a towel. Keep it short and fun. Just a gentle squeeze, then release him. Cover his head, then release, more treats. Again, be sure to end all lessons with a happy cat.

After a few weeks of training, ask your veterinarian whether you may bring your cat to the hospital for more practice. Bring the cat and his towel to a quiet examination room. Do your routine handle, brush, treat. Spend about 20 to 30 minutes, if possible. Go home with a happy cat. Return once or twice weekly until your cat is very tolerant of this process. At this point, introduce the gentle towel wrap. Keep in mind that your cat may be more nervous at the hospital than at home, so use care make it a game.

After the handling and restraint are going well, ask a staff member to help you. Initial sessions should involve nothing more than treats and brushing. Ask the assistant to follow the same procedure that you have followed: treats, then exam, then restraint. There will always be procedures that require restraint, so cats do need to tolerate a towel wrap or body squeeze. The technician or veterinarian will know how to do this safely and correctly. Remember, a brief restraint is followed by rewards.

Wrap Up On a Happy Note

Try to have two sessions each week. Always go home with a happy cat; never end a session with a struggle. And take your time. It may take weeks to months to meet your goal. Be sure to follow up throughout the year with practice examinations at the hospital as well as at home.

If at any point you encounter aggression, you should stop at once. Have your veterinarian or a behaviorist design a more detailed treatment plan that will be safe for all concerned. You do not need to be injured in order to implement a behavior modification program. v