The findings of a feline health study conducted by Bayer Health Care revealed that 52% of America’s 74 million cats are not receiving regular veterinary care. I would bet that the actual number is probably much higher, since this study only captured data from cat guardians who do seek some veterinary care, not those who never take their cat to the vet. And while some of this may be due to cat guardians not understanding how vitally important regular veterinary care is for your cat’s health, it may also be due to the fact that most cats hate going to the veterinary clinic.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has been educating veterinarians and veterinary staff on how to make practices more cat-friendly through its Cat Friendly Practice Initiative. I attended a series of lectures at the Central Veterinary Conference in Washington, DC a couple of months ago which all focused on making the clinic environment less stressful for cats.

The overarching theme for handling cats in a veterinary practice was “less is more.” Gentle handling, calm energy, and working with the cat rather than against it all contribute to making the veterinary visit a more positive experience for both cat and guardian.

Here’s what you should expect to see in a cat-friendly practice:

Waiting area

Clinics should have a separate waiting area for cats. Better yet, cat and guardian will be taken straight into an exam room. Most cats do better if they can see their guardian while they’re in the carrier.

Getting the cat out of the carrier

If the cat refuses to come out of the carrier, there are several options, and none involves the old-style dumping the cat out of the carrier! Most veterinarians prefer hard carriers with a top that opens, or soft carriers that zip open all the way around. In many cases, the vet can conduct the full exam without ever having to take the cat out of the carrier. If carriers have no opening on the top, taking the carrier apart and lifting the top off can be a good option.

Let the cat have as much control as possible

Veterinarians and staff should be flexible and allow the cat as much control as possible. Exams can be performed on the floor, on the guardian’s lap, or even on the veterinarian’s lap (although I suspect that’s the rare cat who will allow that!) The goal is to have the cat be as comfortable and relaxed as possible.

Minimize the stress of medical procedures

If multiple procedures need to be performed during an exam, the vet should always start with the least stressful and/or invasive ones, and save the worst for last. Taking the cat’s temperature is a prime example of this. It’s often done by a technician at the very beginning of an exam, and it may stress the cat to the point where nothing else can be done to her. Saving temperature taking for later in the exam, and using ear rather than rectal thermometers, is a much better approach.


The less restraint, the better. Holding the cat in a natural position during procedures such as blood draws or injections causes less stress than forceful restraint. Scruffing the cat used to be a common way to restrain cats during medical procedures, but some veterinarians no longer use this technique and don’t condone its use. They use gentler handling techniques that are far less stressful and just as effective for cats.

Staff and guardians need to stay calm

Veterinary staff and the cat’s guardian need to manage their energy, remain calm, and speak in soft voices. Cats are sensitive creatures and will pick up on the energy around them. It doesn’t take much to put an already aroused cat over the top.

Are hospital cats a good idea?

Some veterinary hospitals have resident cats. While these cats may be a great morale boost to staff and even clients, they can be a tremendous source of stress for visiting cats. Veterinary staff should be trained to be aware of subtle signs of feline stress in both the resident cat and visiting cats so they can remove the practice cat from patient areas.

What has your veterinary hospital done to reduce the stress of a veterinary visit for your cats?



13 Comments on Less is More When it Comes To Handling Cats in the Veterinary Clinic

  1. Our vet is very good with cats.

    The only thing our vets need to do differently is a separate housing area for cats that are recovering or boarding as they are in cages in earshot of dogs and sometimes right by them. Wish I had known they weren’t planning separate areas & I’d have suggested it when they were building their new building! They have dogs in the same waiting room and it isn’t just the cats who don’t like that. We do not wish to be that close around pit bulls either & they unfortunately tend to some.

    • That’s definitely not a good set up to have cat and dog wards mixed together, Brenda. Perhaps you can work something out with our vet that when you do bring your cats, they can go straight into an exam room?

      • Generally we go in at a time when there isn’t that much activity and they send us straight on in to a room so it hasn’t been a big problem (of late), but it is disheartening to think of what so easily might have been. There are actually two entrances into the building and one simple partition would divide the waiting room as it should have been.

        And our eldest has had some operations so he has had to listen to dogs bark while he was waiting for his ops & recovering though we always have stayed & picked him up the moment he was approved as ready to go (except of course the time he had to stay overnight.)

  2. I take my Cat carrier out a couple of days a head of the Vet visit. That way the Cats know that there is a trip in there future. I am blessed, my Cats are pretty cool when it comes to Vet visits. Once there they sit on the exam table like little angels.

    • It’s actually not a bad idea to keep the carrier out all the time so cats start considering it something “friendly,” rather than just the thing they go to the vet clinic in.

  3. If you can, using a cat-only veterinary practice is a good start. I am lucky in that there are several in my area from which to choose.

  4. I have 3 cats I find that they are afraid in the carrier (old fashioned kind) and usually pee, but as soon as on the steel table they tend to relax, I like that the minute we arrive, we are put in a solitary room waiting for the vet, that way any of my cats, get a little relaxed …the Vets are very, very calm with the cats that tends to soothe them…the biggest problem is the carrier so I will look around for something more comfortable less jail-like….

  5. My cats hate getting in the carrier to go to vet. It’s always a struggle. I’ve tried different carriers, using “calming sprays” and I guess it’s just how it is with my cats. As for the car ride to the vet, that used to be miserable as well (a lot of miserable loud meowing) until I found a cd called “music my pet” and it’s soothing classical music just for pets. It keeps them calm on the ride to and from the vet.

  6. I wish I knew of a vet in my area who took EAR temperatures! The first time my human took me to a vet was shortly after I came home in late 2002, and it was an all-cat clinic. I was very stressed out (I hate the vet to this day), and nothing my human did to make me feel better about it worked. They had a resident cat who actually was awesome – he saw me, upset and crying, and he came over and started licking me in an attempt to calm me down. Sadly, I barely noticed him. My human was impressed, though, even if I wasn’t.

    • Honestly, Sparkle, I wouldn’t have been all that impressed by the clinic cat licking you. I’m sure the clinic cat meant well, but most cats would be even more stressed by being approached by a strange cat in an already stressful situation. As for the ear temperatures, have your human ask your vet before your next visit whether they’d consider doing that.

      • I asked my Vet why they did not use ear therms in lieu of standard painful rectal ones. Her unforgiving response was ear therms were less accurate & unreliable. Her Practice is idolized by many, but I see “the cracks” everywhere. Curious, I plan to visit the premises today & check for your decal image.

  7. Carmine likes to get down off the exam table and hide behind the mini fridge!

    We have a great vet. She’s very kind to my babies. She understands how stressed out poor Carmine gets at his appointments and she always makes sure I’m right there where he can see me and I can pet him whenever she’s doing anything.

    Our clinic usually has one or two “resident” cats – cats awaiting adoption. They get to wander around in the clinic area, but the entire downstairs of the building is for the vet clinic, so it’s usually not a problem at all. 🙂

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