Monday, November 5, 2018

De-stressing your cat's veterinary visit

The thought of your cat's annual exam shouldn't make you both want to hide under a towel!

At Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, we know how stressful it can be for your cat to come visit us. We also know, that what stresses your cat also stresses YOU! You want to take the best care of your cat that you can, but you sometimes wonder if all the crying during the car ride, or the hissing in the exam room is worth it. We get that. We don’t like to see your cat stressed out, and we don’t want you to be stressed during your visit, either. 

However, regular exams with your veterinarian are so important, especially as your cat ages. There are common diseases in older cats that can sometimes be difficult to pick up on at home due to their subtle signs. That’s where your veterinarian comes in! A complete, whisker to tail physical examination will help reveal some of those elusive signs, and your conversation with the veterinary team will help pick up on other signs, such as increased vomiting, increased or decreased energy, night-time howling, 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 disease. 

Even if your cat is indoors, he or she still needs to visit the veterinarian. Indoor cats can still get fleas, are still at risk for heartworm disease, and still may be exposed to rabies if a bat enters your home. If you have a kitten, he or she may need to visit every few weeks for the first few months, in order to get booster vaccines. Between 2-8 years of age, a visit every 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 twice a year. We recommend checking patients’ blood pressure at least twice yearly, as some patients with hypertension can display signs of retinal damage after only a few weeks of chronic high blood pressure. After all, the sooner we pick up on medical problems, the sooner we can treat it and the better the prognosis!

With most of our feline patients, our Feline Friendly Handling Guidelines allow us to perform exams and treatments with limited stress. A calm and quiet environment, skilled and gentle handling, knowledge of feline behavior and body language, Feliway diffusers in the exam room that give off calming pheromones, warm towels, and making slow, steady movements all help provide an environment most likely to make a cat feel safe. But some cats are so stressed by any part of the whole experience that they go into defensive mode for self-protection.

Here are some great tips to help decrease the stress you and your cat experience when you visit:

Conquer the Carrier Crisis

Many dogs enjoy getting in the car and going for a ride because they never know if they are going to the pet store, grandma’s house, the dog park, or McDonald’s for a hamburger! On the other hand, most cats only see the carrier when it’s time to see the vet, which makes it a doubly scary thing.
You're never too young to learn about the carrier!

If you start acclimating your cat to the carrier when they are young, you may be able to make your cat like the carrier right away, but even older cats can learn to fear the carrier less if you let them get used to the idea. The best carriers are those that can have the top removed by unclasping it or unzipping, so the cat can be examined in the carrier if they want (more on that, later!). If you start weeks prior to your annual visit by introducing the bottom half of your carrier in a room that your cat likes to spend time in, your cat will start to see it as less of a threat. 

Offer your cat a bowl of delicious food or special treats in the carrier to encourage him to inspect the carrier at his leisure. Replace the food and treats daily. Once your cat is going into the carrier willingly, you can try putting the carrier back together, and let him get used to entering the full carrier. Then, encourage him to enter a carrier, close the door and carry him on a lap of the house. Gradually work your way up to taking short rides in the car, always starting by encouraging, not shoving, your cat into the carrier. Always give abundant encouragement with treats, calm words and snuggles afterwards (and during the process).  

Another thing that you can do to help make the carrier less stressful is to spray Feliway onto a blanket you place inside to make your cat comfortable about 15 minutes prior to encouraging your cat into the carrier for travel. You can also cover the carrier with another blanket to help block scary sights and smells as you travel to the hospital. Cats are very fond of the philosophy “what I can’t see doesn’t exist!”

Grab the Gabapentin

Gabapentin generally calms but does not fully sedate cats
Another tool that you can use to help your anxious cat de-stress is a medication called gabapentin. This medication is used in human medicine for neuropathic pain, and is also an anti-seizure medication. It is also an excellent, gentle, and safe sedative for cats. A nice bonus is that gabapentin is a flavorless powder inside a capsule, which can be opened and mixed into some canned food 1-2 hours prior to the appointment and most cats will just eat it right up along with the food. For most cats, 100mg prior to the appointment is all they need, while others only need 50mg. Some cats benefit from a dose the night before the appointment in addition to the dose prior to the appointment. Side effects are mild, including excess salivation and sedation, and these will wear off in 6-8 hours after the dose of medication. For some people, gabapentin is also a nice solution for those cats that will not allow nail trims or grooming at home!

We want to emphasize that gabapentin is not just for cats that show their teeth and claws at the hospital – cats that are anxious or vocal in the car, those that urinate or defecate in their carrier, or scratch their face and tear their nails on the carrier doors, trying to escape, even cats that lead you on a merry chase around the house when they sense it is time to go to the vet – any cat could benefit from this anti-anxiety medication. They may still not be happy about coming, and are probably never going to feel like our office is their favorite place, but the whole ordeal will be less traumatic – both for them and for you!

 Deliver Delicious Delicacies

You may want to bring your cat with a good appetite! 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 - occasionally some tests do require fasting). Personally, we find that Friskies Party Mix, canned tuna and Fancy Feast are a hit in the veterinary clinic. We have recently had some success with INABA Churu grain-free lickable cat treats, as well, which is a meat flavored puree in a tube (kind of like kitty GoGurt). Just in case, we welcome you to bring your favorite snacks too!

If you have questions or concerns about the level of stress your cat experiences before, during or after his or her visit, don't hesitate to call our office at 248-666-5287 and ask us how you can help make things easier for both you and your cat so that they can get the crucial health care they need.