Help Calm Anxiety at the Vet’s Office

Here's some expert advice to help make the experience more pleasant for both of you.

Isnt it remarkable that most cats are well-behaved when they visit their veterinarians? First, they are captured and put into an automobile. They remain in their containers, sheltered but helpless, in a room filled with the scent of unfamiliar cats, humans and even dogs. Finally, every bit of security is lost when the cat is removed from its newfound shelter and the veterinary team places

Bev Caldwell


the cat on the examination table.

Why do cats behave so nicely? Fear can sometimes render a cat motionless and therefore cooperative. Fearful cats – whether immobile or aggressive – can benefit from a behavior modification specifically designed to address high arousal.

But what about the average cat, dare I say the “normal” cat? There may be no indication for intensive therapy or anxiety-reducing medication. But clearly, the veterinary experience is not entirely stress-free.

Rather than take a cats good behavior for granted, why not reduce some of the stressors that can occur during a visit to the veterinary hospital? Lets examine some components of the visit that could trigger anxiety.

Problem One = The Capture. A family member catches the cat, carries her through the house and places her in her carrier. If memory serves her correctly, a trip to the veterinarian is imminent.

ProblemTwo = The Trap. Once inside the carrier, the cat is faced with a closed door. The mature cat will recall that the last time she was trapped in this manner, the door did not open for a very long while, and the day was far from routine.

Problem Three = The Automobile. The carrier door is closed, and the cat is now moving inside a vehicle.

Problem Four = The Veterinary Office. The carrier has landed in a waiting room filled with unfamiliar scents and sounds. The cat is pulled from safety, placed on a table, subjected to pokes, prods and pinches, only to be returned to the Trap and the Automobile.

Given a choice between lounging on a windowsill or taking a ride and having a physical examination, I suspect most cats would select the stay-at-home option. Still, a cat that has been exposed to the problem cues without experiencing any unpleasant consequence is likely to be more comfortable during the veterinary visit.

Exercises to Try

Exercise One = Call your cat and give her a reward. This could be a treat or a bit of play. Then, lure her to her carrier for some more treats. Leave the door open so she is free to leave.

Exercise Two = Feed a special meal inside the carrier with the door secured shut. For the next half hour, carry your cat around with you as you go from room to room. Keep the carrier close beside you. Periodically reach inside to pet her. Be sure she is resting comfortably.

Exercise Three = Take your cat on some short car rides. While safely in her carrier, she can accompany you on errands. Offer layers of bedding so she can burrow if she chooses. Play music to mask some of the road sounds.

Exercise Four = Place your cat on a table and examine her gently, as though you were the veterinarian. Use a towel to pad the table. Use a second towel to wrap her gently, mimicking the gentle restraint that might be needed during an examination.

On the day in question, line the carrier with her practice towels, and pack some of her favorite things in a tote bag. Bring a soft brush, some tasty snacks, and a familiar favored toy. Find a quiet seat in the waiting room. Try to block her view of other animals. If it is very noisy, ask whether you can wait outside.

Once you reach the examination room, unclip the hinges on the carrier. If she will not walk out on her own, open the top so that a staff member can scoop her out.

You may not be able to hold her during the examination, but you can talk to her and, depending on the procedure, you may even be able to offer her some treats. If you have practiced this routine at home, it will be familiar and she might surprise you by snacking. Otherwise, put the treats into her carrier for the ride home.