How to Conquer the Cat Carrier For Stress-Free Vet Visits

Getting your cat in a carrier and taking them to the vet can be incredibly stressful for both of you. It's extremely common for cat owners who adore their cats to only take their cat into the vet when they are sick because it will stress their cat out. The big problem is that cats will try to hide their symptoms until they fall critically ill. If your feline family member does develop health issues and it is detected early it is more likely to be treated and resolved. With early detection, treatment is likely to be less expensive and easier to manage. This becomes a lot less likely if we only see our feline patients after they have started showing symptoms.

regular wellness visits for cats

Regular Wellness Visits Are a Must

Your beloved feline friend needs routine wellness visits so that you can have better and longer lives together. We do this by preventing health issues and detecting problems in their early stages. We recommend twice-yearly wellness visits as a preventative measure so that our feline patients achieve and maintain optimal health. We do understand that pet parents are not always inclined to bring their cat in for wellness exams even when they consider their cat’s health to be a top priority. It is especially understandable if your cat fights you every step of the way and both of you are at max capacity for stress before, during, and after every visit. But in order for you to have a longer and better life with your cat, they need to come in regularly.

getting sick cats to vet

Why Early Cat Illness Detection is Key

Imagine if the only time you took your cat to the vet is when they are sick and they have to come in no matter what. They feel horrible and have been forced into a carrier (maybe even the first time since bringing them home from the shelter). You take them on a noisy care ride where they are being bounced around and then they go to a new place that has different smells, and different people are doing strange things to them. There is no place for them to escape to and they are feeling all these new sensations ALL at once! This feels like an abduction to your cat and your cat is only considering fight or flight and will likely try to manage both.

When your cat is in "get me outta here/escape mode", it creates a lot of extra stress that neither of you needs, especially when they have an illness or disease. It will be even more difficult the next time, if not impossible, to bring them in sooner rather than later. The goal is to reduce stress wherever possible so that things do not escalate and neither of you is worked up into a state. This is accomplished with positive reinforcement and conditioning.

getting cats to vet

How Can I Get My Cat to the Vet Without a Struggle?

It will take time, ingenuity, and work but it is possible. Your cat may never “enjoy” going to the vet but there are many things that you can try to continually decrease your cat's anxiety and stress with each visit. This will help your cat to become adjusted to having to go to the vet on a routine basis for wellness appointments and when they are under the weather. We want them to know what to expect, be somewhat familiar with a certain level of change, and maybe even understand that it is only temporary.

We all want a calm and easy vet visit with our cat, and the way to do that is to eliminate as many stressors as possible. At the minimum, the goals are that you and your cat do not have a negative experience. You want your cat's stress and anxiety minimized to the point where getting your cat to the vet is manageable and routine. The first indication that your cat knows something is up is when you bring out the carrier. So the first step is getting your cat used to the carrier.

Why Do I Need a Carrier?

It is of the utmost importance to bring your cat to the vet in a proper carrier. From your car to the exam room, there are way too many devastating possibilities. If you allow your cat to walk around your vehicle unsecured they can easily get under your feet and cause an accident where you both get injured. If you are in the parking lot and your cat flips the switch to "get me outta here/escape mode", they can get loose and can escape into unfamiliar territory and end up lost forever.

If you actually make it into the building with barking dogs and unfamiliar smells, you will have to hold your terrified cat that has worked itself into a state where no vet or vet tech can touch your sick cat to examine, assess, and administer any necessary treatment that will alleviate your cat's ailment.

cat carriers for vet transport

What Kind of Carrier Should I Get?

When choosing a carrier, the functionality should be your deciding factor. You want to select a carrier that is sturdy, stable, and easy to carry. To ensure that the car ride is as smooth as possible, the carrier needs to be able to be secured in your car with the seatbelt, so that it is snug and stable. The best carriers are the sturdy plastic ones that open from the front and also the top. The top and bottom should come apart so that it is possible to examine your cat in the bottom half of the carrier if they are stressed out, in pain, or scared.

Avoid carriers that will make it more difficult to get your reluctant cat out of the carrier so that they must be dumped or pulled out to be examined.

Create a Safe Carrier Haven

Before you start, get in touch with your inner Buddha. Cats can sense our anxiety or frustrations, which may cause them to become stressed and reluctant. Start now—not a couple of days before your appointment—as this will take time. Leave the carrier out in the open where your cat spends most of their time. Make the carrier your cat’s “retreat”. Place some toys, familiar bedding, or an item of your clothing that has your scent inside of the carrier. Put treats or catnip inside of it and check to see if it has been eaten or moved around. Use pheromone sprays such as Feliway. These sprays mimic natural feline scents that trigger cats to feel comfortable and secure. The goal is for your cat to learn to associate the carrier with positive experiences and to go inside of it on their own. This can take a couple of days or even weeks and, if it does not work. you may need to try a different carrier.

PRO-tip: NEVER scold or punish your cat. It does not work and it will likely have the opposite desired effect with even more negative consequences for you. Remain calm, patient, and reward desired behaviors frequently. For example, if your cat goes in and out of the carrier or even stands next to the carrier, give a reward. A reward does not have to be a treat. Use what motivates your cat the most. It can be petting, brushing, or treats.

Don't have a vet in your area yet? We can help you find a local veterinarian.

Contributing DVM