How to make taking your cat to the vet less stressful

  • With time, cats can learn to enjoy their carriers.

    With time, cats can learn to enjoy their carriers. Courtesy of Diana Stoll

By Diana Stoll
On Pets
Posted2/17/2020 6:00 AM

According to a new Illinois law that went into effect Jan. 1, all cat owners must have their cats vaccinated for rabies and keep them updated from the time they are 4 months old. Cats are to receive rabies certificates and rabies tags just like dogs.

It is estimated one in five homes in Illinois has at least one cat, and many cat owners mistakenly believe their cats don't need annual exams or rabies vaccinations because they stay indoors. But, for cats to live their happiest and healthiest lives, a trip to the vet at least once a year is important.


For most cat owners, taking Fluffy to the vet is right up there with going to the dentist or doing taxes. Pulling your cat from under a bed or from behind a couch, struggling to get her into a carrier and listening to her howl in the car -- does that sound familiar?

Cats are independent, territorial and sensitive to different smells. A veterinary visit deprives them of their independence, removes them from their predictable surroundings and introduces a variety of new scents (and sounds, for that matter) -- all stressful for cats. But cat owners can make the experience easier with these tips.

Carriers are the safest and most secure way to carry your cat to the vet. She will be safe and protected from other pets and will feel less exposed. There are a wide range of models available. Purchase a carrier that "fits" your cat -- one that is not so large that she might fall against a side when it's carried.

Whichever type you choose, make sure it is easy to clean and you can get your cat in and out with little effort. Sometimes, veterinarians even do some parts of an exam in a carrier with a removable top.

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Help your cat become familiar with her carrier. Put it in a room where she spends a lot of time. Place some soft towels or blankets in the carrier with your scent. Leave some of her favorite treats in it to encourage her to go inside, but don't force her.

Give her as much time as she needs to get curious enough to go inside -- it may take days, or even weeks. Given time, your cat will consider time in the carrier a positive experience.

Once the carrier is accepted, it's time to go for a ride in the car. Always keep your cat in the carrier while driving. Position it on the floor or secure it in a seat belt. Cover it with a towel to reduce stimulation and keep the volume down on the radio. Drive carefully, avoiding quick turns and sudden stops.

Take some trips that don't end up at the veterinary clinic, so your cat doesn't associate the car with the vet. Once home, give her lots of love and treats.


On the day of an appointment, give yourself plenty of time. If you are running late, your cat will sense your anxiety. Speak to her in a calm, soothing voice.

There are also products available containing pheromones that can be sprayed on her blanket in the carrier or in the car to help decrease stress. Apply them 30 minutes to an hour before you leave.

There are also pre-visit medications available for cats that are highly stressed, but these should be discussed with your veterinarian to be sure they are appropriate for your cat.

With a little effort, getting your pet to the vet won't strike fear in the heart of you or your cat.

• Diana Stoll is the Practice Manager at Red Barn Animal Hospital with locations in Hampshire and Gilberts. Visit, or call (847) 683-4788 (Hampshire) or (847) 422-1000 (Gilberts).

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