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  Muddy Creek Feline Hospital's Karen gives a kiss to Cat Reuben
  The Muddy Creek Feline Hospital & Inn team adores cats! Here, Reuben receives a kiss and a snuggle from Karen.

We tend to think of cats as aloof unemotional creatures, but our feline friends are subject to the same stressors and emotional triggers as canines and even humans.

Having evolved as solitary predators, cats' social cues are much more subtle than those of creatures that evolved as part of a pack or a co-operative group and, when stressed or frightened, they are more likely to react in a defensive, combative fashion.

Few things are more stressful to a companion kitty than the trip to a veterinary office. However, there are many things a human care-taker can do to minimize the anxiety associated with a medical visit.

The first issue to address is transport. Some cat owners prefer to transport their kitties wrapped in a towel, leashed, or even loose in the car. There are multiple risks to both cat and owner in this scenario:

  • Besides being a potential distraction to the driver, cats may try to hide under owners' feet, near brake or gas pedals.
  • In a crash or even a sudden stop, a loose kitty may become a projectile, harming himself or other passengers.
  • When a car door is opened, or while being carried in a parking lot, a panicked cat can escape, running into traffic or getting lost.
  • Even safely in the vet's office, a loose cat may be a target for harassment by leashed dogs, increasing tension levels and also the potential for harm if kitty decides to fight back.

Most veterinary offices (including Muddy Creek) require all cats to be transported into the facility inside a secure pet carrier. Cats prefer to be in enclosed places when they are feeling anxious, so a large box is not necessarily required for even robust-sized felines. Ideally, the carrier should be large enough for kitty to turn around, but small enough to be lightweight and easy for the transporter to handle.

If your home allows, try to leave the carrier out in a place where kitty will feel safe exploring it and getting familiar. Putting comfy bedding, treats and toys inside will hopefully help her feel that this is refuge and not feel entrapped.

If your feline ventures inside the carrier, close the door for a few seconds, then open it again. Gradually prolong the time the door remains closed and, as long as your cat remains calm, carry her out to the car, maybe taking a spin around the block. If possible, seat belt the carrier in the car seat for your cat's safety. Spraying a calming pheromone, such as Feliway in the carrier may ease this process considerably.

Once you've actually arrived at the vet's office, try to segregate kitty from other species and try to keep the carrier in an elevated spot since cats feel more secure when they're not down on the floor.

In the exam room, open the carrier door while you're waiting for the veterinarian to give your cat a chance to exit on its own. If he does come out, close the door so he doesn't scoot back in and then have to be pulled out. Purchasing a carrier with a removable top is ideal because even if your cat is reluctant to exit, most of the exam can still be performed in the carrier with a minimum of stress to kitty.

Muddy Creek has recently opened a feline-exclusive section of the hospital, Muddy Creek Feline Hospital & Inn, in an effort to make kitty visits more comfortable for cat and for owner. Located upstairs, the Muddy Creek Feline Hospital has its own reception and check-out area so your cat will never encounter dogs or other species.

Muddy Creek Feline Hospital's Cat-Friendly Features

  • The rooms are quiet, filled with natural light and are infused with Feliway to promote a sense of calm.
  • The equipment and even the veterinarians' lab coats are used exclusively on felines so as not to introduce foreign smells into the cat-only environment.
  • Our technicians and Feline Hospital staff enjoy on-going training in feline-friendly handling techniques.

Dr. Sylvia Reiser is an associate veterinarian at Muddy Creek Animal Care Center in Rowley, MA. Dr. Reiser is also a member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners.