Why Cats Hate Going to the Vet, and What to Do About It

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America’s cats are facing a healthcare crisis. The findings of a feline health study conducted by Bayer Health Care found that 52% of America’s 74 million cats are not receiving regular veterinary care. 83% of cats are seen by a vet during the first year after they’re adopted, but less than half of them ever return. These statistics are alarming, especially in light of the fact that cats are masters at masking any signs of illness. By the time a cat shows symptoms, a disease may already be in the advanced stages, which often makes treatment less effective and more costly.

Two of my favorite cat people are joining forces to help raise awareness about this growing concern. In his most recent episode of Cat Mojo, Jackson Galaxy interviewed Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, former president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and owner of two cat hospitals, Chico Hospital for Cats in Chico, CA and the Cat Hospital of Portland in Portland, OR.

Removing barriers to vet visits start at home

One of the main reasons why many cats don’t get the veterinary care they need is because going to the vet visit can be an ordeal for both cat and guardian, and the stress begins long before the cat even gets to the veterinary clinic. Even the anticipation of a vet visit can make cat guardians anxious, and cats, being the sensitive creatures they are, will pick up on that anxiety. Getting the cat into the carrier is yet another barrier.

Please watch the video below to see what Jackson and Dr. Colleran are doing to help get more cats to the vet’s. You can also find information on the website of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. The brochure titled Getting Your Cat to the Veterinarian: Reducing the Stress of Veterinary Visits for You and Your Cat provides detailed tips for cat guardians.

Email subscribers, please click through on the post title to view the video directly on our site.

Does your cat hate going to the vet? What are you doing to make the experience less stressful for your cat, and for yourself?

22 Comments on Why Cats Hate Going to the Vet, and What to Do About It

  1. Bethlyn Smith
    October 9, 2017 at 6:16 am (2 months ago)

    Chloe loves going to the vet. I don’t have a problem with her. I tell her to get in her carrier, where we are going. She’s ready before me. Oh yeah. I should mention Chloe is a diluted tortie. Attitude to the max!! (
    Wouldn’t have her any outher way)

    Reply
  2. Anita Botman
    September 9, 2016 at 4:42 am (1 year ago)

    Bibi just went to the vet for the first time (she hasn’t been long with me). It was extremely stressful for both of us, but I found some great tips on the internet, putting a blanket over the carrier, use a small space where she can’t hide under anything to put her in. The first day I had to reschedule the appointment, but the next day we went. It was a great relief to see how quickly she forgot about it after she came home. I think the first time with a new cat is the hardest, but when you learn more about the cat it becomes easier.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 9, 2016 at 5:36 am (1 year ago)

      It’s always amazing to me how quickly they recover from these types of experiences, Anita.

      Reply
  3. Carmen
    October 10, 2014 at 8:30 pm (3 years ago)

    My cat likes to enter to his carrier, he loves the car ride because my husband used to pick at school with my cat in the back (outside of the carrier) so he knows car rides and carriers not always mean vet. However, he becomes very crazy (growling and hissing) when we go to the vet. The last time, he was growling and hissing and they couldn’t be near him because he tried to scratch everybody (me included). The vet told me that he couldn’t check him and that I should try changing the food. I felt so bad because if he was really sick and the doctor is not willing to deal with him What should I do? . The funny part was that when we enter back to the car, he started to look at me and purr and blink LOL…

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      October 11, 2014 at 6:29 am (3 years ago)

      I think you need to find another vet, Carmen. The advice to change his food to manage his aggression at the vet clinic makes no sense to me. Look for a feline-only practice or a practice with a cat-friendly certification. You can search the American Association of Feline Practitioners website for a practice near you: http://www.catvets.com/cat-owners/find-vets-and-practices

      Reply
      • Carmen
        October 11, 2014 at 7:08 am (3 years ago)

        Sorry, I didn’t explain that changing his food was because he was vomiting for two days. But he couldn’t or didn’t want to examinate him for his aggression. Thanks I’m going to look on that website because I feel bad that he can’t be treated. (He is still a little sick)

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          October 11, 2014 at 9:05 am (3 years ago)

          Okay, that makes a little bit more sense, Carmen – but I still think you should look for a vet who specializes in cats.

          Reply
  4. Debi
    September 29, 2014 at 11:20 pm (3 years ago)

    Yes, too much stress for all of us! I’ve switched to a vet close to home because the car ride was the worst part of the ordeal. Once there, I wish they wouldn’t keep us waiting so long and dog owners would stay in the dog area! In the exam room it’s difficult to get Zoe out of the carrier but she’s is okay once out on the table. My vet is gentle and quick and then she runs back in. Once home she runs right out and seems okay, like all is right with the world again. 🙂

    Reply
    • Criket Duke
      June 26, 2017 at 3:17 am (5 months ago)

      I go inside vet clinic and informed them that when my cat can be seen, call me and i will come in. I stay in vehicle with my cats to reduce their stress. My cats aren’t ever around dogs and dogs scare them. Plus, their are so many different scents in waiting area that also upset my cats.

      Reply
  5. Kathy
    September 29, 2014 at 9:16 pm (3 years ago)

    I have two rescue cats, one age 2, the other age 4. I don’t know what happened to them before I pulled them out of animal control, but I suspect it was not always pleasant.

    While she gets along very well with me, my husband, and my son, the younger of the two is terrified of strange adults (she isn’t afraid of children), and she trembles violently and pants heavily at the vet’s office. Its not a cardiac issue. When she is there, she tries to hide in any small, tight spot she can access, including the exam room sink.

    I like the vet’s office and the vets are all very good and kind and friendly people. My fraidy cat doesn’t care. It is like she is saying “Oh my god I’m going to die please don’t see me” and it breaks my heart to witness this.

    Both cats have their annual appointments two weeks from now. I’m thinking about throwing a sheet over the younger one’s carrier so that she can’t see out, and no other patients or office-resident animals can see in. I’m also thinking of dousing the sheet in Feliway spray so that she’s surrounded in a cloud of “It’s okay.” Another option, which is less likely to happen since this is a very busy practice, is to let them know there is a problem and ask to be ushered directly into an exam room where we can wait in relative peace. Either way, she’ll stay in the carrier until they are ready to examine her. I’m hoping it makes her feel less vulnerable if she has walls around her.

    I suppose I answered my own question right there — I really ought to tell them her problem right now, weeks ahead of time– maybe they’ll have some ideas for me to make her trip less stressful.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 30, 2014 at 6:16 am (3 years ago)

      I think it’s a good idea to talk to your vet before your appointment when you have cats who are challenging to deal with. The practice should accommodate your request to be taken directly to an exam room, since it’s in their best interest, too, to keep the cat as calm as possible. If they really can’t do that for you, you may want to consider waiting in the car until an exam room is available.

      Reply
    • Charles
      March 1, 2017 at 2:01 am (9 months ago)

      I have a feral cat who has gotten use to and my husband ! I took her for shots ! We got her home and won’t come in! She us sleeping in a cardboard box under our carport I make for s feral cat ! I am heartbroken! What to do?

      Reply
      • Ingrid
        March 1, 2017 at 6:13 am (9 months ago)

        She may just need a little bit of time to feel safe enough again to come in, Charles. Unfortunately, she probably views you taking her to the vet as a betrayal of her trust right now. Keep going out and speak to her in a calm, soothing voice. Maybe create a trail of treats toward the door. I’m pretty sure she’ll come around.

        Reply
    • Criket Duke
      June 26, 2017 at 3:25 am (5 months ago)

      What is Feliway Spray? I stay in my vehicle with my cats to help with my stress and cats. Vet tech comes out and gets us when we can go directly into exam room. This helps us all!

      Reply
  6. Patricia
    September 29, 2014 at 5:00 pm (3 years ago)

    OK I’ll say it. The cost is what stops me from taking them to annuals.I have cats who could not be put out again when TNRing. Not feral enuff or too young ,injured, bad spot for cats,saved from euthanasia, starving etc. I take some of em to adoption fairs almost every wkend they do not like getting into the carriers. Granted they are rescued semi ferals and spook and some are way too strong to wrestle w/. Dealing w/ fleas alone is a full time job this time of year and clipping the ones I can. I have a large pen I put the ones going to fair/vet in the night before (if I can catch them) and then it’s easier to get them into a carrier from there.I use a couple of different vets for low cost spay neuter,microchips and shots but only use the high pricier vet that is nearer by for emergencies. It’s $65.00 just to walk in the door. Times that by 10. We have only had 1 emergency in the last few years an unknown virus kitty had fever and got antibiotics. The 1st few had their annuals (have a guy who lost an eye at 3-4 weeks and I worked very hard to save his one eye so we visited Vision Vet a lot that year)but when my home got more and more crowded as the rescues I trapped grew(and were not getting adopted) in order to keep them safely off the street and out of shelters I feel I’m helping them socializing loving and homing them tho they don’t go to vet every year. 2 are 100% feral I can get near them but they won’t let me touch em I’ll probably need a home visit vet for them. For regular cats carriers and vets are challenging at times for the semi feral/feral it’s traumatic but mostly for me but I’ve been lucky so far.

    Reply
  7. Becca Cook
    September 29, 2014 at 3:51 pm (3 years ago)

    One cat loves to go to the vet and the other deals. The first cat in on a leash and jumps up onto the table with no trouble. Loves he techs and goes crazy over our vet. The other doesn’t like going in the car she gets car sick. But once there she will get lovey with the techs, but she tolerates the vet. Just lays there like a lump. Wish she would be more like the old guy, but I’m glad that they go without any trouble and hassles.

    Reply
  8. Fur Everywhere
    September 29, 2014 at 8:09 am (3 years ago)

    My cats really hate going to the vet, but they go anyway. I talk to them on the way to the vet to try to keep them as calm as possible. My vet also recommended giving Rescue Remedy before we head over to the vet, which didn’t seem to help my most anxious kitty much, sadly.

    Reply
  9. Terri alee
    September 29, 2014 at 7:19 am (3 years ago)

    My baby boy Simon was rescued from the streets 7 years ago. He was obviously abandoned by some cruel person via the car. He has been to the vet several times and it isn’t the vet themselves he hates it’s the car. He gets so frightened that he has accidents..bad ones.

    I have put his carrier out as part of our home decor. I’ve fed him in there for a month plus, all to no avail.I even purchases Spirit Essence which helped. The moment I attempt to put him in there it’s over.. Thankfully I found a very who makes house calls

    We recently moved from NV to MI. I was extremely concerned how he would be but the vet recommended a mild anxiety treatment which worked as well as I could hope. He had many accidents but I was prepared for them and he made it and is adjusting well.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 29, 2014 at 4:23 pm (3 years ago)

      I’m so glad your boy did okay during your move, Terri!

      Reply
  10. Safepethaven
    September 29, 2014 at 1:06 am (3 years ago)

    The long version:

    I’ve never experienced these issues [at least w/my own cats] the past 36+ years, and total of dozens of cats, kittens [rescues, fosters etc]. Early on, even though my first two personal cats didn’t need to go much more than annually for vax & ck-ups, I wanted to have an easy experience for ALL concerned including the vet & staff. Due to multiple blessings I’ve had 2 of the BEST vets EVER in these past 38 yrs in 2 locations. But I made it my mission to de-sensitize anything stressful, related to a vet office visit.

    First, I regularly took at least one of my then 2 cats in the carrier, in the car, when I had a car-based errand under 10 minutes [such as the drivethru bank a couple blocks from home].

    2. I left the carriers out & open at all times around the living spaces of the house, with a comfy blankie or towel; mine would use it for napping so did not associate with any negatives.

    3. when one of my cats had a routine/non-emergency appointment, I would take the other along just for “moral support” for the kitty friend and to let the rider know not all car rides end up with a treatment they might not love.

    4. Made a huge effort to bond with my vet(s) as soon & as much as possible w/o becoming a nervous-nellie pet mom pest, so <> knew that <> knew my animal best as far as picking up on subtle changes & early, not waiting until things got critical. They soon learned to respect me, & I them, as partners in the best care of those particular pets.

    It’s rarely all the pet’s “fault” when the staff gives off body language to you — and even verbally, when a presumed “difficult” pet enters the clinic. First, they should understand & be trained to work around/through even the most difficult case — or they’re in the wrong profession, & to NEVER, EVER take their frustrations out on the pet!

    The best feeling in the world is when your pet comes to need the routine, or especially the emergency care, of a veterinary professional, & thy gracefully accept that exam & treatment with ease and cooperation – w/o drama – so that everyone benefits. The vet staff rarely express their appreciation that for nearly 4 decades I’ve been able to present them with mostly very cooperative cats to care for. But surely they do, even if never expressed aloud.

    Another helpful hint: next time you buy/replace a carrier, get one that’s plenty large enough especially for an XL sized adult cat, and has both a “front/end/side]” traditional, secure door to it — but also a TOP-loading secure door. The ease of getting the pet in & out of the carrier, both to get to/from the vet, but also when at the vet clinic, is exponentially easier — for everyone!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 29, 2014 at 6:36 am (3 years ago)

      Thanks for sharing what has worked for you – it’s all great advice! And as a former veterinary hospital manager (and assistant/technician), I can tell you that veterinary staff most definitely appreciates cooperative cats!

      Reply

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