We recognise that for many cats visiting the practice, regardless of whether it is for routine treatments or during times of illness, this can be a stressful experience. We have a number of measures already in place within our surgeries to try and reduce this stress and are introducing design features within our Brayton waiting room during the course of our current renovations to make the environment more ‘cat friendly’.
However, the stress for cats begins well before they arrive at the surgery!
As soon as the cat basket appears in the house (often having been safely out of sight in the shed or the garage since it was last used for a trip to the vets or the cattery), most cats will recognise that something fishy is going on. Factor in the inevitable struggle to persuade the cat to get into the basket and then the trauma of a car journey, by the time they arrive at the surgery they (and probably you) are already wound up.
The following tips are simple things that you can do along the way that will really help to keep your cat calm and reduce their anxiety.
Cat basket design
If you already have a cat basket of old, this may be something you are unable to alter, but if you are needing to purchase a new or replacement basket, if is worth considering the following points:
Choose a basket where the top can be removed or fully opened. Removing the top makes it much easier to persuade a very reluctant cat to go into the basket in the first place and equally, being able to lift a worried cat gently back out of the basket is much less stressful than having to reach into the depths of a basket and try and pull them forwards towards a narrow opening.
Choose a basket with solid or semi-solid sides rather than very open sides as this will improve the ability for your cat to feel hidden and secure within the basket
Introduce the cat basket to their normal home environment in advance
For routine and pre-planned visits, bring the basket out of the shed/garage a couple of days before your intended journey and leave it in the corner of the room with the door open and preferably with a familiar towel or blanket inside. Cats are naturally inquisitive and will want to explore new things within their environment, so this will give them the chance to go in and out at will and recognise it as a familiar place, well in advance of your needing to shut them in there, so they will perceive it as much less of a threat.
Cats feel secure when able to hide away at times of stress, so if your basket is constructed of wire or any other material with open/see through sides, covering the basket with a towel that smells of home will help to create a more secure environment and this towel will come in very handy later to reduce stress during your consultation with our vets or nurses.
Use of pheromones
Cats produce natural pheromones that are important in their interaction with other cats (and people) for marking territory and establishing hierarchy and also for feeling secure and comfortable within their surroundings.
Feliway is a synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone that cats use to mark areas as safe and secure. We use Feliway in a diffuser form within our cattery environment, as it is proven to help comfort and reassure cats while they cope with a challenging situation and therefore reduce their anxiety. It is also available in a spray preparation and this is ideal to spray inside your cat basket in advance of a trip out to help reduce the stress of the car journey. Many cat owners will have experienced the distressed cries of an anxious cat travelling in the car or been on the receiving end of a ‘bad smell’ wafting forwards midway through the journey and while Feliway won’t necessarily rule this out, it will certainly help to reduce the incidence.
We have Feliway available to purchase at both surgeries in 20ml and 60ml bottles, as in addition to the obvious benefits during travelling, it can also be used to prevent scratching and inappropriate urine spraying within the home and to spray on cat flaps where there are issues with neighbouring cats, among other things.
Securing the basket in the car
Once you have got the basket in the car, securing it in position with a seat belt or between other larger items in the car boot will help to reduce fright during the journey. A basket that moves independently of the car in response to twists, turns and sudden changes in speed is understandably a much scarier place for a cat to be, than a basket that sits firm and still during the journey.
The waiting room experience
For a cat feeling trapped inside an unfamiliar basket, the sounds, sights and smells within the waiting room can add to their anxiety.
If you think your cat would be happier waiting for the consultation in the peace and quiet of the car, we are more than happy to accommodate this. If you come into the practice and let our reception team know that you have arrived for your appointment, you can either take a seat until the vet/nurse calls you and then nip out to the car to collect your cat or if you would prefer, you can return to wait with your cat in the car and the vet/nurse will come and invite you into the consultation room from there.
If you choose to bring your cat into the waiting room prior to your consultation, there are a number of simple steps you can take to help reduce their anxiety at this stage:
The towel/blanket mentioned previously covering the top of the basket will help your cat to hide away and feel less vulnerable in the presence of strange people and other animals.
Even cats that live very happily alongside dogs at home will be frightened by coming face to face with someone else’s dog. If you are able to sit with the basket on your knee or place it on a spare chair within the waiting room (if there is one available), this will reduce the chance of an inquisitive dog investigating your basket as they walk past.
As we renovate our Brayton surgery, we are hoping to create a small ‘cat only’ space within our waiting room to give clients a choice to further facilitate this.
The consultation itself
Allowing your cat to make choices early on in the consultation will reduce their anxiety and often helps to make them more accepting of our clinical examination and less resistant to any procedures we need to carry out.
If you have covered your basket with a towel from home, it is a good idea to start by laying this over the consulting room table (and spraying it again with Feliway if you have already used it beforehand) – this will help your cat to feel more secure when they are on the table as it will smell of home.
If you place your cat basket on the floor in the corner of the room and take the top off or open the door, it is a good idea to then leave your cat undisturbed to hopefully make its’ own way out of the basket to investigate, while you talk to the vet/nurse and give them the initial history. With any luck, curiosity will get the better of them and your will cat come out and have a wander round the consulting room. As cats like being higher up, many will then voluntarily jump onto the consulting table (particularly if it is covered by a towel smelling of home), thus putting themselves in the right place for examination in a much more relaxed frame of mind than had they been wrestled from the depths of their basket.
Our vets and nurses have a few tricks up their sleeves in terms of interacting with and handling cats during clinical examinations that have been shown to improve their consultation experience, so with your help, hopefully we can all work together to perform the necessary examinations and treatments with the minimum of fuss for all involved.
After your consultation, if you would prefer to take your cat immediately back to the peace and quiet of the car and then come back in to collect their medication, rather than them waiting again in the waiting room, just let our reception team know.
We understand that whatever we do, a trip out in the car to the vets will always be a worrying time for cats but we know that employing some or all of the above measures will make a massive difference. Equally, if you have any tips of things that you have tried in the past that have benefitted your cat, please let us know so that we can share them with other interested cat owners.