Updated: Jan 4, 2022
It's a common occurrence that cats don't enjoy going to the vet. And you can't blame them! They're usually pushed unwillingly into this little box they're not used to being in, put in a big, noisy moving car, and then pop out into a completely new place and have this random human poking and touching them. We can change that entire dynamic though by doing some work before the vet visit. Things like crate training play a big part in preparing your cat for a positive vet experience.
If your cat has never been introduced to a crate or the vet in a positive way, you may be thinking that there is no hope for a smooth vet visit, but that's not the case!
Here are our tips for starting with new kittens and cats who have already been to the vet before
The crate or carrier can be your best friend when starting training with a new kitten or reconditioning your adult cat to begin to love going on trips, outings with mom and dad or to the vet. Be sure to Check out our diet monitoring and emergency prep blog too for more tips!
The very first step to take is to get your cat comfortable with his/ her crate. I recommend leaving the carrier out in room where it is easily visible to the kitten or cat. If you are just starting your kitten out, you have a huge advantage because the crate is just a crate, it has no negative association with it yet. You can start to build the positive association by tossing treats in and out of the crate to make it a game! How fun! And when its meal time (see our blog post on why we do not recommend free feeding), you can simply put your kittens dish of food inside the crate with the door open. By applying these simple techniques you are Creating a lifetime of good habits for your kitten to learn. It will make trips that much more fun when you finally venture out.
Pro tip: Once your cat is done eating leave the door open and put his/her favorite blanket inside so that it become a little den for your kitten to hang out in. You can also use that very same blanket to teach your cat to go to mark or place on it and when you do arrive at the vet that blanket can then come out on the table to serve as a place to stay on and act as a comforting tool for your cat. Check out our video on mark training in our IGTV series on Instagram. However, if your cat has already had a bad association with the crate and is very fearful, this may take a little extra time, but don't worry. Don't ever push or maneuver them in, let them go inside the crate on their own to explore. Remember you can put a comfy blanket in there or something with their scent on it and even put a little calming pheromone spray on the blanket so that you reduce any nervous tension or hesitation about going in it.
If your cat is very fearful getting past the door is often the hardest part. I recommend just taking the door off until your cat has learned to trust the crate. You can always add it back on when they are ready and just prop it open against something so that it doesnt swing back and forth when they attempt to go in.
This is also where the blanket comes in. You can teach your cat to go to the blanket as a mark spot for training. Check out our mark training videos on IGTV on Instagram to help get you started. Once you teach your cat to go to the blanket you can then start to get the blanket closer to the crate, inching it in. The eventual goal is that they see their blanket (the fun spot) and offer to go in for a treat. This can take up to a week or more if your cat is very fearful but go slow and keep it positive. You'll want to work up to feeding your cat their meal in their crate every day. After your cat has become comfortable with their crate, you can then start to secure your cat in the crate and take small trips around the house to get them acclimated to being carried.
Pro tip: I always recommend carrying the crate with the front door facing back. Cats do not like to see things approaching them and can often frighten them, so carrying the carrier backwards offers a little of visual protection for anything that lies ahead. Once your cat is a pro at the steps above you can now try just moving it to the car. You can acclimate this by just going to the car, turning it on for just a minute, reward your cat, end on a good note then go back inside.
If your cat will not accept a treat or looks frighted you may have moved too quickly. You may have to wait a minute let them get comfortable and offer a treat again. I like to put the radio on some soothing music to drown out any scary noises. If that doesn't work, just go back to where you left off at in the last session where he/she was comfortable. Remember to treat this as a training session, always make sure they are food motivated and hungry before starting. Look out for things like licking lips if they are nervous, meowing loudly, and all signs that they are stressed. With each day, just increase what you are asking your cat to do if you can to keep the training moving. Bring toys and treats and all their favorite things when you are asking them to do something new or scary.
Now that your cat has mastered that, you can then drive around the block for short trips and come home. You dont want to associate going out with just going to the vet.
Fast forward. Now that your cat is comfortable with their crate, it will be a breeze to get them into it before their vet trip. Just feed them a small amount of their meal in their kennel before their trip to get them inside. Make sure that you go to the vet prepared! Cook up some chicken or bring along their favorite treats. Gather up their favorite toys and you're now ready! Time to load your cat up in the crate and head out on your journey.
Pro tip: When driving, try to stay in the same lane or avoid changing lanes often. Abrupt changes like speeding up and stopping quickly can make your kitty sick and build another negative associating with the crate. You can bring an extra blanket to cover them up on the sides so they don't get sick from looking outside.
Once you're at the vet and in the exam room, have your treats ready. We would not recommend getting your cat out of their crate until the vet is in the room. Doors can be weird and scary and minimizing those instances where your cat could run (running is a big no no) is key to a great vet experience. Once the vet is in the room, just communicate with him that you're working on vet trips and you want to make it positive for the cat. You'll want to get your cat ready before the vet starts the examining your cat. It's important that the vet knows this so they can use a soft voice, gentle touching, and practice fear free handling techniques.
The goal is to get them comfortable on the table and for them to not run and hide. Make sure to pull out the blanket and put it on the table. If you have a very outgoing cat, this will be easier to accomplish. Chances are if you're reading this, your cat may be fearful in new situations and you may need some extra guidance in this journey! Gently encourage your cat to come out to play on the table and ensure them that all good things come when they are brave! When the vet is handling your cat make sure to verbally encourage them and even ask the vet or tech if its ok that your reward your cat with a treat.
After the exam and everyone is gone take a few extra minutes to play with your cat in the room with a laser toy, wand toy or toss a treat for them to hunt down. The more fun you have the more your cat will build a positive association with the vet and it will take the stress off of you and your cat. So have fun cat boss.
Remember we are changing the way people see cats for the better and if we change what we do to better them then other people with follow too! >^..^<