Regular veterinary visits are key to your cat’s health and longevity, providing preventive care for a more comfortable life. However, it’s important to make these visits a positive experience, as many cats find the unfamiliar environment of the vet, carriers, and car rides stressful.
To help your cat adjust, consider these tips and learn how to choose the perfect cat carrier. Cats prefer familiar surroundings, so if the carrier isn’t part of their regular environment, they may be wary of it. Understanding and respecting your cat’s need for time to acclimate to new situations, people, and places can make a significant difference.
Minimize Stress During Carrier Introduction
Transform your cat’s carrier into a familiar, comforting space rather than a seldom-seen object stored away in the basement or garage. By integrating the carrier into your home environment where your cat spends time, it becomes a safe, familiar zone. Choose a sturdy carrier with both top and front entrances. Here’s how to make your cat more at ease with the carrier:
- Place the carrier in a common area with soft bedding inside, preferably with your scent, for added comfort.
- Entice your cat with treats, catnip, or toys inside the carrier. It’s common to find treats gone overnight as your cat explores.
- Allow your cat to approach the carrier naturally without coaxing to avoid suspicion.
- Consider using synthetic feline pheromone sprays or wipes in the carrier to reduce anxiety.
- Be patient; trust in the carrier may develop over days or weeks. Calmly reward your cat for positive interactions with the carrier.
- If issues persist, reevaluate the carrier choice based on your veterinarian’s advice. Sometimes, a new carrier is necessary to avoid stress pheromones from previous trips. Clean the carrier thoroughly with a non-scented cleanser, rinse well, and air-dry it in the sun.
- Carry the carrier from the bottom to provide stability.
- Once your cat is comfortable, take short “test drives” with their favorite treat to acclimate them to car travel.
To avoid increasing your cat’s fear and potential injury to yourself, don’t leave the carrier introduction until the last minute. If your cat is already familiar with the carrier, try withholding food for a short period and then place their favorite treats inside the carrier. Your cat will likely enter on their own. If not, gently bring your cat into a closed room, calmly pick them up, and place them in the carrier, just as you would have practiced during acclimation sessions. If your cat becomes extremely stressed during this process or during the journey, her anxiety may escalate. Stay composed. If your cat remains uneasy with the carrier despite practice, consult your veterinarian about administering a calming medication before visits.
Ensuring Car Safety for Your Cat
The Center for Pet Safety advises securing carriers with a seat belt in the backseat, but only if they are crash-tested. Otherwise, it’s safest to place most carriers on the floor behind the driver or front passenger seat. Allowing your cat to roam freely in the car poses significant risks. An unsecured cat is at high risk of injury in an accident and could also distract your driving by contacting your hands or feet or potentially escape when a door is opened.
Related article: Reducing the Stress of Veterinary Visits for You and Your Cat