Calming your cat with medicine and herbs
We use Feliway spray and diffusers in our clinics to help keep cats calm and comfortable. Feliway diffusers are plugged into the wall and give off a calming scent that mimics the facial pheromone produced by the scent glands in a cat’s cheeks. Feliway spray also comes in a pump bottle and can be sprayed directly onto a towel or bedding which the cat uses. In our experience, both methods of delivery help calm cats down. It is especially useful to spray the towel in the cat carrier 10 minutes before leaving for the vet.
Some other available stress-relieving herbal remedies are catnip, PetAlive PetCalm, Nutri-Vet Pet-Ease Paw Gel, and PetEssences line of flower essences (some of which are apparently specifically formulated for distressing cats). We use catnip here in the clinic for cats that seem to enjoy it. We have not used the other herbal remedies mentioned above, so we cannot speak on their effectiveness, but they are out there and available if herbal treatment is the direction you would like to go.
Finding the best cat carrier
We recommend that all cats be transported to the vet in a well-designed, hard plastic carrier with a removable top. Getting a cat in and out of a soft bag is difficult if the cat is nervous, and we definitely recommend against allowing the cat to roam freely in your car. A good cat carrier should have a removable top that unlatches or unscrews quickly. After taking the top off, the cat can be placed into or taken out of the carrier easily. Carriers such as the two pictured below seem to be the easiest to use (one has an additional hinged wire door in the ceiling which might make it easier to get the cat into the carrier):
We recommend placing a t-shirt or towel that smells like home inside the carrier, preferably something that can be washed easily if the cat urinates or defecates. This towel can also be used to “taco” the cat, or wrap her up, so that she can be placed gently into the carrier. This method of moving a cat around is often much less invasive than scruffing the cat, and it also protects your hands from being bitten or scratched. If the cat is extremely fearful, she may bite you as you attempt to move her, so it is advisable to fully wrap all four of her legs and have the towel covering her face so she cannot hurt you. The wrapped-up kitty can then be placed directly into the carrier, inside the towel. As she wriggles out of her towel taco, the top of the carrier can be placed back on and voila, you have a kitty in a carrier, with a towel that smells like home underneath her. The removable top also allows the vet easy access to the cat once the exam begins. After taking great care to get your cat to the vet as calmly as possible, it would be a mistake to upset her as she exits the cat carrier.
Here are some basic instructions to wrap ("burrito") your cat in a towel:
- Lay a large towel flat on the floor or a table with the cat's hindquarters in the middle of the towel.
- Take the half of the towel behind the cat and fold up and over her snugly so she cannot back out.
- Wrap the sides of the towel over her snugly, so that the cat is wrapped inside with no feet showing.
- If the cat might bite you, make sure there is enough free towel up near her head so that it can hide her face (the cat in the above photo is very sweet so the towel is not covering her face).
Getting the cat comfortable with the carrier
We also recommend that the cat carrier be left out at all times with the door open, so that the cat gets used to having the carrier around and going in and out of it on a daily basis. One could set up the carrier as a hide spot or a sleeping nook, with the cat’s food served near it. In this way, the carrier becomes a normal thing for the cat to see and interact with, rather than a negative thing that she gets trapped in from time to time.
Once the cat gets used to the carrier, one could begin getting her into the carrier and taking her for short car rides so she gets used to the movement, sounds and smells of the car. One might go so far as to drive the cat to the vet and bring her into the waiting room for 10 minutes so she can get used to that situation as well. Of course, use your judgment with that; if the cat is very nervous, driving her around and bringing her to visit the vet’s office might not be a good idea.
Turning the vet visit into a positive experience
Once it comes time to actually visit the vet for a checkup, we have a few recommendations that will make the process as easy as possible. The most important concept for any cat owner to remember is that the cat will pick up on the anxiety of her owner. It is vitally important for the owner to remain completely calm before, during and after the visit (this is often easier said than done, especially if the cat is sick). Some owners do not realize that they are feeling anxious as they go to the vet with their cat. If you find yourself sitting in the waiting room, stroking your cat constantly, chances are you are feeling anxiety and your cat will pick that up from you. If you are unable to visit the vet without feeling anxious, you might think about sending your cat into the vet with someone you trust, someone that can stay calm and get through the visit without feeling too much stress.
Loud noises and strange situations can be difficult for your cat. Try to find a vet who has a cat-only practice, or who has set aside specific hours where he or she sees only feline patients. Having loud, fast-moving dogs sniffing around in the waiting room can be extremely stressful for your cat.
In general, you can help your cat out by staying calm, moving slowly, speaking gently and keeping loud noises, fast movement and strange smells to a minimum.