Cats are the most popular pets in America – with all of the great photos, videos, and memes on the internet these days, I can only imagine their #1 spot is here to stay.
According to the AVMA U.S. Pet Owner Statistics, cats make up over 50% of the pets in the U.S., but they only account for 20-35% of veterinary visits. Why? For most, just the simple act of bringing the cat out of the house strikes a deep-seeded fear. The thought of claws, teeth, carrier, screaming car ride… it’s enough to wear anyone out. We also have this thought that, especially indoor cats, don’t need regular veterinary care. Cats are strong, hardy animals and don’t like to show that they need help (if they just had thumbs, their food bowls would never be empty again!). In fact, most cat owners don’t notice early signs of disease in cats because cats are experts at hiding illness… they are disease ninjas, if you will.
This is especially true if you have more than one cat – subtle changes in appetite, litter box habits, and activity can go unnoticed as the other cats pick up the slack. Cats have unique problems that can quickly become life threatening but are manageable if found early. From Type 2 Diabetes to Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease, Feline Oral Resorptive Lesions, Hepatic Lipidosis, and Chronic Kidney Disease – most cases seen by veterinarians have been going on for months, but many pet owners have only noticed changes within the previous days to weeks before seeking help. My own cat hid intestinal cancer from me until I suddenly noticed dramatic weight loss – it can truly happen to anyone. Cats are also highly susceptible to stress; when we are stressed, they become stressed. During stress in our lives, it can be easy to miss subtle changes in your cat’s behavior.
Another common misconception is that the only reason to come in to the vet is for vaccines. Most people think that indoor cats aren’t high risk, so there’s no need to be seen after their initial kitten visits. Vaccines are certainly important for their own reasons (ex: rabies is nearly 100% fatal, and one rabid bat in the house legally means euthanasia for any unvaccinated indoor cat), but above and beyond, the physical exam is our most important tool in helping your pet live a long and healthy life. Seeing your pet every year through adulthood and twice a year in the senior years helps us to get to know you, your pet, and what is normal. Subtle changes are found early when your veterinarian and veterinary nurses know your pet well. Regular checkups also give us the chance to check normal blood values on your pet – early detection of liver or kidney disease can greatly extend the lifespan of your cat. Cats may be disease ninja’s on the outside, but their bloodwork always tells the truth. Detecting kidney disease, liver disease, thyroid disease, or diabetes early through preventative screening can help us to make small changes now in diet, supplements, or medications. This can prevent expensive Intensive Care Hospitalizations or in the worst cases, choosing euthanasia in times of a crisis that may have been avoided.
Now we know why they need to visit… but we are still left with HOW? There is a reason that all-too-real cartoons and photos of getting cats into the carrier are so popular.
Here are a few tips for getting your pet used to its carrier prior to the visit:
1) Start at least 2 weeks prior to the visit. The sooner the better, but even if it’s the same day, these helpful tips can apply! Hard shelled carriers are best, with openings from the top and front that can be taken apart if needed.
2) Keep the carrier in your cat’s favorite room at all times, make sure it’s clean of all cobwebs and place a soft blanket, bed or towel inside of it to make it more comfortable. Leave it near a sunny window or someplace your cat enjoys spending time – cats love boxes, so they can grow to love their carrier, too!
3) Place tasty treats inside of the carrier each day. Crinkle the bag near the carrier so that your cat sees you place the treats inside. Place a familiar toy inside of the carrier, or if the top opens, play with your cat in and around the carrier to encourage your cat to come nearer.
4) If your pet still won’t come near the carrier, a pheromone spray called Feliway can help make your cat more comfortable. It is a pheromone that cats release from their cheeks when they rub on furniture and people when they are happy. We have sample wipes that you can pick up at any time to help with the trip in – simply wipe the pheromone inside of the carrier and then place the used wipe in the carrier with your pet on its way in to the vet.
5) For those cats that still won’t come near a carrier or get too stressed in the car, we offer home visits where we can at least visit your pet and prescribe anxiety medications to help with examination or travel.
For the big day:
1) Avoid feeding your cat for 6-12 hours before your vet visit – this will decrease the chance of motion sickness on the trip in and make your kitty more likely to accept treats or special food rewards while at the vet.
2) Once you get ready to go in the car, make sure the carrier is on a level surface – placing a rolled up towel in the crease of the back seat can help to level out the seat for your feline friend. A towel placed over the carrier can also help to keep your cat happy and decrease the chances of car sickness.
3) When carrying the carrier, make sure to keep it level – carry it like a fragile present, not a piece of luggage. A small amount of movement on the outside can seem like a carnival ride to a scared cat inside of a carrier.
4) If your cat has a favorite toy, hair brush, blanket, or treat – feel free to bring it along with you to your visit to make your pet feel more at home.
5) If you are committed to the cause, bring your cat in for random, free happy visits – please call ahead so that we can ensure that our cat room is available and no dogs will be in the lobby – we are happy to see your cats for a quick weight check with treats and play time. Random car rides in the carrier can also help.
6) If you have any troubles at all, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. Our staff is committed to making your visit as stress-free as possible. We are happy to talk you through these steps or make individual suggestions based on your cat’s preferences.
Here’s a great video with helpful tips:
Have a blog topic that you would like to see in the future? Leave a comment through social media or on our website and your topic may be picked for the next article! Thanks for reading!
Lindsey Hedges, DVM