Tips For Keeping Your Cat Calm For Vet Visits – The Dreaded Cat Carrier

Vet visits can sure be stressful for our feline friends! Although we love cats and want them to feel happy and comfortable in our clinic, it’s easy for them to feel overwhelmed by all that’s going on around them. Today we want to discuss techniques to help manage your cat’s stress around that upcoming appointment. Our goal is to facilitate calmer visits, easy and gentle patient handling and, hopefully, reduce your stress as well!

Cats are very intelligent creatures. Many cats associate their carriers with negative memories (e.g. vet visits, cattery visits), and this can turn the prospect of a simple trip into a real rodeo. Instead of trying to force your cat into their carrier under time pressure, a much better approach is to spend time acclimatising your cat in advance of your visit. Getting them to see it as a calm, safe environment, rather than something to be feared, will help make the vet visit less stressful for everyone.

Here are five steps to help set you, and your cat, up for success!

Step One:

Place the carrier out in the open, in a place where your cat spends a lot of time and is comfortable. Place some of your cat’s favourite belongings, like toys or bedding, within the carrier, as well as some tasty snacks. Covering the carrier with a blanket or towel can be useful, as cats instinctively like to hide – Feliway™ sprayed onto the fabric will make it smell “catty” and promote the idea that it’s a safe space to be in.

Step Two:

Let your cat approach and/or enter the carrier of their own accord. When they do so, reward them! This reinforces the idea that going near or in the carrier is a good thing. The reward can come in the form of treats, petting, praise, a short play session – whatever gets them motivated! If they still seem reluctant you can try dangling a toy or treat by the opening until they approach.

It’s important to realise that this can take some time – but remember, forcing your cat inside can actually reverse any progress you’ve made. It’s much better to take your time and remember that a little patience now will go a long way in future!

Step Three:

Once your cat is comfortable with entering and staying in their carrier, you can try shutting the door for a short moment before opening it and rewarding them. Do this several times before gradually increasing the amount of time the door stays shut. Remember, if your cat begins to feel overwhelmed, stop the training session and try again at another time.

Step Four:

When your cat is comfortable remaining inside their carrier for a good length of time, you can start to get them used to being picked up and carried. Start with short trips, reward and release – remember, go back to the previous step if your cat shows signs of stress. Then gradually build up to longer periods spent being carried.

Step Five:

Great job on getting this far! Now we’re going to discuss how to transition your cat and carrier to the car – remember, this can be a very scary thing for a lot of cats, so the key is to take your time and gradually build up to your vet visit. Let’s break this step down into smaller pieces.

1) Place your cat and carrier in the car for a short time, without turning the engine on. Allow your cat to settle, then bring them back inside and release and reward

2) Gradually increase the amount of time your cat spends in the carrier in the car without the engine on. Take your time with this step as it will pay off shortly!

3) When your cat is comfortable spending prolonged periods in the car, you can turn the engine on. Leave the car parked and allow your cat to adjust to the noise. When they’ve settled, release and reward as per previous

4) Take your cat for a short trip around the block (and remember to ensure the carrier is secured with a seat belt!). Be sure to provide a big reward for this as it’s a huge step forward!

5) Over time, increase the length of your journeys. Eventually, with time and patience, you will hopefully be able to drive all the way to the vet clinic with your cat being none the wiser

Remember, it may be impossible to completely reduce stress associated with travelling. However, the process of desensitisation can make a huge difference to your cat’s comfort during transit and will help them arrive at the clinic or cattery in a more relaxed state of mind. Always reward your cat when you get home from the vet.

Some cats benefit greatly from the provision of oral sedatives (e.g. gabapentin) prior to car journeys of any length. Our team is more than happy to discuss if this is a suitable option for your cat – call the clinic on (03) 5955 2440 or shoot us an email at to discuss.

(With thanks to Gary - cool as a cucumber in his awesome pram!)