Dr. Justine Lee with black cat
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Ask Dr. Justine Lee: How To Prepare For Your Cat’s Vet Visit

Est. read time: 5 min.

Written by Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC, DABT

As a veterinarian and a cat owner, I get it. I know how stressful it can be to you and your cat when it comes to veterinary visits.

After all, the stress of getting your cat into the carrier, only to find panting, malodorous dogs in the waiting room, plus all the poking and prodding (touching!) by the veterinarian… what’s a cat to do?!

Well, visiting your veterinarian is so important, especially as your cat ages. That’s because your veterinarian wants to do a complete physical examination. We want to pick up on some common causes of weight loss, increased vomiting, bigger urine clumps, and increased thirst in your cat; these are all signs of common diseases in older cats such as diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, and chronic kidney failure.

Even if your cat is indoors, he or she still needs to visit the veterinarian. If you have a kitten, you’ll need more frequent visits to your veterinarian (such as every few weeks for the first few months, in order to get the booster vaccines). Between 2-8 years of age, a visit every other year is typically sufficient, if your cat is indoor only. However, as your cat approaches 8-9 years of age, ideally those visits should be once a year. After all, the sooner we pick up on medical problems, the sooner we can treat it and the better the prognosis!

So, what can you do to prepare for your cat’s vet visit? Try these insider-veterinary tips:

  1. Acclimate your cat first
  2. Just say yes to drugs (such as Feliway or gabapentin)
  3. Don’t feed your cat before the veterinary visit
  4. Be a good catvocate for your four-legged feline

Acclimate your cat first

Having to “shove” your cat into a cat carrier is stressful, especially if you’re only doing it on the rare occasion! Instead, help your cat acclimate to the carrier. A few weeks before your veterinary visit, set the carrier out into the corner of the room. Open up the door of the carrier so your cat can inspect it at his or her leisure. Sprinkle some catnip and treats in the carrier once a day to entice your cat to enter on his own accord. Add your cat’s favorite blanket, toys, or bed in there. Gradually move the carrier into the center of the room over a few days, and slowly, your cat will get used to the carrier! BTW, my favorite types of cat carrier are carriers with tops that can be unzipped or removed.

Just say yes to drugs 

For once, drugs are good! There are some natural products that can be used to help minimize the stress to your cat pre-veterinary visit. One of my favorite products is Feliway, a natural cat calming pheromone. After all, I’ve used this—both as a veterinarian and a cat owner—in my own household when I was having some behavioral problems in my cat. These come as sprays or wipes, and you can pre-purchase them before your veterinary visit. Spritz some Feliway into the carrier or on the carrier cover at least 15 minutes before you put your cat in it.

My second favorite drug is prescription: gabapentin. While this is often listed as an “anti-seizure” medication, it’s used for nerve pain in veterinary medicine and is an excellent, gentle, and safe sedative for cats. While the dose ranges quite a bit, I traditionally use 100 mg (total per cat) the night before the veterinary visit, and 1-2 hours before the appointment. This can cause sedation and wobbliness but helps relieve a lot of the stress of the exam visit.

Don’t feed your cat before the veterinary visit

We want your cat to come hungry! Not only will that help if your cat gets car sick (motion sickness), but it’ll allow us to shower your cat with his or her favorite treats during the veterinary visit (as long as it’s not medically contraindicated). Personally, we find that the snacks Temptations®, canned tuna, and Gerber® meat-based baby food are a hit in the veterinary clinic. Just in case, bring your favorite snacks too!

Be a good catvocate for your four-legged feline

Before traveling with your cat, cover the cat carrier with your cat’s favorite blanket. This will help reduce the anxiety from seeing unfamiliar sights and smells.

If you have time to prepare, consider doing some practice runs in the car. Drive your cat around the block or around town and bring your cat home right after. This will help acclimate your cat to the driving and smells of the car.

When shopping for a veterinary clinic, ask if they implement Fear Free® techniques. Before you get to the hospital, ask your veterinary staff to have your cat-friendly exam room sprayed with Feliway to help provide some calming vibes before your cat arrives! Once you arrive, ask to be brought to the exam room right away so your cat doesn’t have to be exposed to barking and dog smells in the lobby.

When in doubt, realize that visits to the veterinarian are a must in order to keep your cat healthy and happy. But help minimize the stress to you and your cat with these easy tips!

How To Prepare For Your Cat’s Vet Visit

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