Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: February 1, 2023 by Crystal Uys


Cats don’t get the veterinary care they need. 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. Even more shocking, the study found that 80% of adopted cats are seen by a veterinarian right after they are adopted, and then not again for several years.

Why cats aren’t getting the care they need

There are two main reasons for these dismal statistics. One is the perception among many cat guardians that cats are self-sufficient. And while cats may be more independent than dogs, they’re also masters at hiding signs of illness, which is why regular veterinary exams are so important. By the time a cat shows symptoms, the disease may already be in the advanced stages, requiring more extensive, and expensive, care. The second problem is that taking a cat to the vet is stressful for most cats and their guardians.

The second reason is that getting cats into the veterinary clinic is stressful for both cat and guardian. A significant number of cat owners polled in the Bayer study admitted that even the thought of having to take their cat to the vet makes them feel stressed out. Given that cats tend to pick up on their guardians’ stress, this seems like a no win situation. However, these challenges are not insurmountable. And while it’s up to veterinarians and their staff to make the vet visit experience less stressful once cat and guardian arrive at the clinic, preparation for a stress-free vet visit begins at home.

Get your cat used to the carrier

A cat carrier is an important part of your cat’s life. Unfortunately, for most cats, the only time they’re in a carrier is when they have to go to the veterinarian, so the association with carriers is often a negative and stressful one. But carriers can be vital in an emergency, and it’s a good idea to get your cats used to the carrier so that they can associate it with a positive experience. This will go a long way to make vet visits less stressful.

From picking the right carrier to making it an alluring part of your cat’s every day environment, training a cat to accept the carrier is not that difficult, it just takes a little persistence and lots of rewards. Read How to Get Your Cat to Used to the Carrier for detailed instructions and helpful hints.

Calming remedies

Spraying the carrier with Comfort Zone Feliway Spray can help keep cat calm (it’s also a great tool to use when training cats to accept the carrier.) Calming remedies such as Stress Stopper or Rescue Remedy can also keep your kitty calm (and if you get stressed about taking your cat to the vet, you may want to take a hit or two of these remedies yourself!)

Limit food and/or treats prior to a vet visit

Veterinarians and staff like to use treats to create a positive association with a vet visit for your cat. By limiting food or treats before the visit, your cat will be more receptive to these “bribes.”

The car ride

Make sure that your cat’s carrier is flat in the car to help cats feel more secure. Most cats will do better with fewer stimuli, so consider having the carrier face the back of the seat rather than the front. You may even want to consider covering the carrier with a towel. Even though your instinct may be to talk to your cat in the car, unless you are truly relaxed, negative emotional talk such as “there, there, it will be okay, I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you” will probably not help your cat calm. Consider playing calming music especially engineered for cats instead.

At the clinic

If your vet clinic doesn’t have separate cat and dog waiting areas, ask that you and your cat can go directly into an exam room. Consider staying in the car with your cat and calling the clinic’s receptionist to let them know you’ve arrived. Ask that a staff member comes and gets you when an exam room is ready.

Now that you’ve done your part to make your cat’s vet visit less stressful, it’s up to the veterinarian and staff to follow cat-friendly practice and handling guidelines. And while no amount of preparation may be enough to make your cat actually enjoy going to the vet, being prepared can make a big difference.

Photo by frankleleon, Flickr Creative Commons

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12 Comments on Your Cat’s Visit to the Vet Starts at Home

  1. These are some great tips, and I appreciate your advice to get your cat used to its carrier at home. My husband and I just got a kitten, and we need to take her to the vet to have her vaccinations done soon. We’ll definitely try and get her used to her carrier beforehand so she’s not as stressed on the way there. Thanks for the great post!

  2. All excellent tips, Ingrid. May I also add to please put some kind of soft bedding in the bottom of the carrier, your cat will be much more comfortable. I like Caren’s advise about staying calm. Our pets are so in tune to us, I’m sure you cannot go wrong with advise like that.

  3. We’re big pushers of Feliway and are lucky it works so well with our current batch of cats. We’re also very, very lucky we now have a cats only vet. No dog smells or barking for us (though we’ve not been so lucky when going to the overnight emergency vet). Good tips and advice!

  4. Hi Ingrid. In my opinion, and from what I gather from others I’ve had conversations with, there is another very important reason folks aren’t getting their cats to the vet: because of the high prices the vets are charging. Especially with hard economic times, record numbers of people are dumping their animals off to be put down, or just leave them somewhere. I’ve tried talking with numerous vets about making preventative care more affordable, like annual blood work, and I get a snub every time.

    • As a former veterinary hospital manager, I’ve heard what you’re saying many times, Elizabeth. I don’t disagree with you: veterinary care is expensive. However, what most people don’t realize is that, relatively speaking, veterinary care, especially when compared to human healthcare, is actually not at all unreasonable. Trust me, veterinarians don’t go into this profession for the money, it’s a huge misconception that they make a lot of money. Here’s some insight into what goes into the cost of veterinary care:

      I also believe that pet insurance is a must for pet guardians these days.

  5. This is a great article. For the longest, I was in that group that didn’t take my cat to the vet except when first adopted. It is such a high-stress situation for everyone involved. However, I found that finding an exclusively all-feline vet clinic is a huge help in regards to anxiety and the overall vet experience for both me and my cats.

    • You’re right, a feline-only or cat-friendly practice where staff is trained in what cats need will help make the experience less stressful, Nikki.

  6. These are fabulous tips Ingrid!
    I am a HUGE advocate of keeping the carrier out all day every day! Didn’t do that for most of Angel Bobo’s life and as you can imagine, FINDING him, let alone putting him in the carrier would be a major ordeal (MANY vet visits had to be canceled as a result)

    With Cody I have left the carrier out every day. Cody doesn’t associate it with the Vet at all and I will often find him sleeping in it. What I did do a couple of years ago, was get a carrier that opens from the TOP as well as the front. (Why didn’t anyone make these sooner???!!) LOVE mine! Instead of having to shove poor Cody into it, now I just put him in feet first (which cats prefer anyway)

    As for the car, he often is in the front seat next to me (I face the carrier towards me) and occasionally pet his nose. I also put the radio on and sing lol.

    He and my Angel Bobo had no problems with car, so I must do something right!

    I find if I stay calm before a vet visit (which sometimes is hard to do if they are ill), it helps the cat to remain calm as well. As intuitive as they are, they pick up on ALL of our feelings which get transferred to them!

    • I love that leaving the carrier out at all times works so well for Cody, Caren. I think managing our own energy is the biggest challenge for most of us!

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