Editor’s Note: Healthy Paws is a column sponsored and written by the owners of Clarendon Animal Care, a full-service, general practice veterinary clinic. The clinic is located 3000 10th Street N., Suite B. and can be reached at 703-997-9776.
Does your cat hide as soon as you break out the carrier from the garage or the closet? Have you ever had to cancel or reschedule an appointment because you can’t corral your kitty?
Read on for some tips on making transportation (be it to the vet office or just for a trip) a little bit easier for everyone.
Easy transportation starts with a good carrier. A hard sided carrier with an easy to remove top is best. Hard sides provide structure and prevent the carrier from collapsing in on your cat while you’re carrying it. A removable top circumvents the need to remove the cat from the carrier once they arrive for their appointment. Many cats prefer to stay in the bottom half of their carrier while being examined and receiving vaccines because it is familiar.
Pheromones on the bedding will also help many cats enjoy the experience of being in their carrier. The kitty pheromone we particularly like is called Feliway and can be purchased as a spray or a plug-in diffuser. Feliway is a synthetic version of the facial pheromone cats leave naturally while rubbing their faces against an object or a person when they are comfortable in their environment. The spray is most appropriate for use with the carrier; 10 sprays should be applied to the bedding at least 15 minutes before your cat will be going in the carrier, to allow time for the alcohol solvent in the spray to evaporate. This application will last for up to 5 hours, but can be reapplied as needed.
After you’ve picked out an appropriate carrier, put it somewhere your cat already likes to sit. Most cats will prefer it on an elevated surface. Take the top half of the carrier off so it’s more open. Play with your cat in and around the carrier. Place bedding (towel, old sweater) that you cat likes, food, treats, toys, or catnip in the carrier to entice your kitty to enter the carrier on their own. Once they enter the carrier, reward with treats. If your cat is suspicious of this new piece of furniture, leave it out (with the top off) with food or toys inside and allow them to explore it over a period of days or weeks. It’s crucial to leave the carrier out all the time, rather than pulling it out just before a car ride – as then they know something is up and only associate it with potentially traumatic experiences.
Again, when it’s time to transport your cat in the carrier, spray pheromones in the carrier at least 15 minutes before it’s time to go. Allow your cat to get in on their own whenever possible. Transport one cat per carrier. Even cats that share a bed or sleep in a carrier together at home may become overly stressed when transported together and fights could occur. Cover the carrier with a pheromone-sprayed blanket to reduce sights and sounds both during transport and upon arrival to the clinic. If your cat enjoys them, place treats, toys, or catnip in the carrier.
When moving the carrier, hold it with both hands at chest level to avoid swinging and the cat being at eye level with dogs. Ignore the handle on the top of the carrier – it’s not a suitcase! When the handle is used, the carrier will tend to swing slightly and that can be very scary for the carrier’s occupant. Avoid startling noises during the transport. Quiet, familiar, calm music or silence in the car is fine. Secure the carrier on the floor behind the passenger seat. Once in the hosptial, face cat away from unknown people and pets in the waiting room.
It can be hard for cats to reintegrate with housemates after a vet visit. Your cat will smell very different, be stressed, might not be feeling well, and could even be sedate from medications used in the hospital. If any sedation was used, keep your cat in a separate space until the sedation has worn off. A good rule of thumb is 12 hours of separation. When it’s safe to re-introduce your cats, start by re-establishing a common scent profile. Take a rag or shirt and rub down the cat who was out of the house, then take that fabric and rub down the other cat, continue with the same fabric for each cat in the house, end by re-rubbing the cat who was out of the house. This will get everyone smelling the same and minimize signals that the cat who was gone is now an outsider. Supervise interactions until you’re sure they are getting along well. This may sound excessive, but we hear horror stories from owners whose cats have been at odds for weeks after one has visited the vet or other outside situation.
These steps can help reduce the stress of a vet visit for your cat and for your family. If you experience any issues during this process, let your veterinarian know and they can help you troubleshoot. A less stressed cat is a calmer and happier cat, and a happy cat can be examined fully and allow necessary tests to be done more easily so the highest quality medical care can be provided for your furry friend.