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Even though there are more pet cats than pet dogs in the United States today, cats generally receive less veterinary care than dogs. Pet parents are more reluctant to bring their feline companions to the veterinarian for preventive care because often it is a stressful event. The American Association of Feline Practitioners recently published Feline Friendly Handling Guidelines to help veterinary team members recognize feline behavior needs and create a more comfortable hospital setting for cats.
The guidelines help veterinary staff to recognize subtle, early signs of feline fear and anxiety, then adapt to the cat's specific needs. For example, some cats can be distracted by a toy or treat, while others prefer hiding under a towel to feel safe and protected. Veterinary hospitals have numerous smells and noises that are strange to cats. The veterinary team should do its best to limit exposure to strong smells, loud noises, fast movements and unfamiliar sights (such as other cats). Moving slowly, speaking softly and performing the exam where the cat is most comfortable (in the carrier or on a chair, for example) are additional ways to lessen patient stress. Some cats need a prescription anti-anxiety medication to help them cope with visits.
The guidelines also offer pet parents tips on how to make veterinary visits more pleasant, beginning with preparing at home. Stress often begins with the cat carrier. Making the carrier a safe and pleasant place for your cat requires patience. Choose a carrier that is sturdy, secure and stable, as well as easy to carry. Some of the best carriers are inexpensive and hard-sided, open from the top and front, and can be taken apart easily.
Keep cats calm in their carriers
The following steps can help your cat become more comfortable with the carrier:
- Place the carrier in a room at home where your cat spends a lot of time so the carrier can become a familiar "piece of furniture."
- Make the carrier appealing by placing soft familiar bedding inside along with toys, treats or catnip.
- Reward your cat with calm words of praise, a scratch behind the ears or a favorite treat each time she sits calmly in or near the carrier.
- Once your cat readily enters the carrier and can sit comfortably with the door shut, take her out to the car and practice short rides around the block.
- Determine whether your cat is more comfortable looking around during the car ride or would feel more comfortable with a blanket over the carrier.
- Remain calm when you arrive at the veterinary clinic. Cats can detect our own anxiety and frustration, and this can heighten their stress and.
With practice, your cat will be ready for a veterinary visit in the carrier. Your veterinarian might remove the top half of the carrier and perform much of the exam with your cat still in the bottom half of carrier.
Veterinarians and pet parents need to work together to make visits more comfortable so that our feline friends benefit from preventive health care. An annual comprehensive health exam is essential to helping cats live long, healthy lives.