During an interview for my article about common cat health problems, one veterinarian asked, “Where are all the cats?” While cats tend to live longer than dogs, our feline friends typically receive far less veterinary care. Cats also are a lot better at hiding symptoms, leading to bigger bills when they finally get a thorough examination. I realize that getting cats to do anything other than eat, sleep and play can require a Herculean effort. The idea of placing cats in a carrier and driving across town seems impossible.
But it can be done.
While Victoria Stilwell’s TV show, “It’s Me Or the Dog,” typically focuses on wayward pooches and their people, she has joined forces with Banfield Pet Hospital clinics to launch an “inFurvention” campaign focused on getting more cats face time with their vets. In a contest that ends Aug. 17, cat owners can win a house call from Stilwell and a year of free preventive vet care by sharing video footage of attempts to place cats into a carrier. If your cat has trouble traveling in carriers, try these tips to get the job done with a little less drama.
Don’t put off the inevitable
It may be tempting to delay this dreaded task until your scheduled appointment date, but stuffing a cat into its carrier on the big day will only lead to a feline freak-out. Instead, allow about two weeks of practice time for you and the cat.
“I like to have time to be able to build up the positive association with the carrier,” says Stilwell. “For some cats, this takes maybe a couple of days and for other cats it may take longer.”
Help cats associate the crate with good things
Introduce the carrier as if it were another piece of furniture. Add the cat’s bed or a few favorite toys and leave it in the cat’s favorite room a few days prior to the appointment. Rather than an instrument of torture, focus on making the carrier a safe haven. This encourages the cat to explore without feeling threatened.
“You are taking a lot of pressure off the cat by making the carrier no big deal,” Stilwell says. “At the end of the day, a cat will feel more comfortable if it feels safe.”
Enlist a friend for emergency transport
If there is no time to help cats get acclimated, sit the carrier on its end and place the cat inside. When cats go in face first, Stilwell says, they see what’s coming and drama ensues. Instead, gently place the cat inside, bottom first, and ask a friend to close the door. Then slowly lower the crate to the horizontal position.
After years of working with dogs, Stilwell says that each pet is unique. Some cats simply hate being confined and will avoid carriers at all costs. If your cat won’t play nice, she recommends using the emergency technique with a little twist.
“Don’t bring the carrier into the room or you will have to chase the cat and then put it in,” she warns. “If you have two people, pick the cat up, take cat into the [other] room and then have someone ready with the carrier so the cat doesn’t see the carrier coming. Then you don’t have that fear trigger."
Maintain peace at the veterinary clinic
The veterinarian’s office can be a pretty scary place, so cover the crate to help reduce visual stimulation. Appeasing pheromones also help some cats stay calm in stressful situations, Stilwell says. Companies such as Feliway and Nature’s Miracle offer synthetic pheromone sprays that can be added to your cat’s bedding. Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Debra Horwitz also has found success using pheromone therapy on patients and even her own cat.
“Mia was a very shy cat who did not like to have to go to the boarding kennel or be transported in her carrier,” Horwitz says. “They would spray in her kennel each day and she would act her normal self. She was a really profound example for me for use of Feliway in cats for stressful situations like going to the vet hospital.”
Unfortunately, behavior problems tend to get worse over time — and memories of one bad carrier experience can linger. To educate pet owners and veterinarians about treatment options for anxiety and other behavior issues, Horwitz and Dr. Marty Becker have kicked off a six-city “Keep the LOVE Alive Behavior Express” tour sponsored by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB) and Ceva Animal Health, which produces Feliway for cats and Adaptil synthetic pheromone for dogs.
“I can’t emphasize enough that we want people to find help for behavior problems and keep their pets,” she says. “Too many are put to sleep each year and many given up for behavior issues that we can fix.”
— Morieka Johnson, @Soulpup
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