Preventing Cat Fear At The Vet’s Surgery

I don’t believe that you can’t totally prevent cat fear at the vets, but you can do things that help to reduce it.

Having read Ruth’s double whammy (two cats at the same time) session at the vets, I thought I’d pass on the advice of Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson¹ about how to minimise the fear and anxiety a cat feels when taken to the vets.

Cat Hiding from cat carrier

Photo by IRD.

Even bold and confident cats can get frightened at the vet’s clinic. Is there is one cat alive who doesn’t hate it? Temple Grandin has a method for handling a cow and she recommends the same for cats! These are basic principles. There are three:

  1. The cat’s owner should use “calm, steady movement” when handling a cat that is going to the vet’s. Jerky or sudden movements make things worse.
  2. Slippery surfaces can unnerve a cat and the examining tables of vet’s clinics can be slippery. So, Ms Grandin suggests taking a non-slip bathmat and placing it on the table. I am not sure if a vet would accept that, but I suppose he would.
  3. Firmly stroking a cat applies deep pressure and calms a cat. This appears to be a reference to the same principles behind the Thundershirt.

The next thing to do is to take steps to make sure your cat is not anxious about being in a cat carrier. It needs to feel like a safe place to be for your cat.

Temple Grandin recommends:

  • Food treats be fed to your cat while inside the cat carrier
  • Your cat be left in the carrier for longer and longer periods to desensitize him to being in the carrier (my words). This is a form of training, if you like, in preparation for a vet visit.

The idea is to get your cat to be relaxed in the cat carrier before going to the vet.

OK, that is Temple Grandin’s advice. I am not sure it is that great, to be honest. Although I respect her skills and knowledge. Personally, I don’t think you can remove the anxiety and fear element from the cat when going to the vet. Almost whatever you do, it will be a difficult for a cat to accept calmly and we have to accept it.

Ms Grandin makes the interesting point that black cats have a calm nature and are less aggressive than orange cats. She quotes Sarah Hartwell who refers to “laid-back blacks” compared to “naughty torties”. Black cats are friendlier than other cats and are better able to deal with social life. Black cats are also said to be healthier than other cats. All this is due to the colour of their fur. I don’t see this as hard science but there is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence to support it.

Black cats would seem to be the best for the vets! Now, I have to gently disagree based on my experiences with Charlie, who is jet black (with a hint of rust). Perhaps, though, Charlie had a very bad experience before, during and after a visit to a veterinary clinic when he had his right foreleg amputated. That sort of experience may have scared him.

Associated page: Taking Your Cat To The Vet


  1. Animals Make Us Human pages 77-80.
Facebook Discussion


Preventing Cat Fear At The Vet’s Surgery — 9 Comments

  1. Taking my cats to the vet is the last thing that i would like to do.The female cat matahari is a bit docile and calm as she has been taken to the vet on a few occasions.As for tomcat Matata, the last time he visited a vet was as a kitten and to date at almost 4 years of age he has never ever been taken to a vet.As both my house cats are indoor cats living in a confined small flat i avoided inoculating them against infections and “anti-rabies” yearly injections.Tomcat matata is a very nervous cat, totally afraid of strangers and hence taking him to a vet would be dangerous for him as well as for me.He would definitely scratch, bite or try to run away from the examining table and hope he remains the robust cat that he is, absolutely tough.I only give them their regular “De-worming” tablets at home.

    • Looks like you are organised Rudolph. Matata has one world and he is safe in it. I think you are right to not have him vaccinated. I don’t vaccinate my cat and he goes outside occasionally. I think vaccination can be overdone. I don’t vaccinate because I am told by my vet that there is not much disease where I live because people generally do vaccinate. That kills the infectious diseases locally. Perhaps I am “leaning” on other people but that is what I do.

  2. I really feel for you Marc, it’s especially very upsetting taking a nervous young cat to the vets so the less times you have to go the better.
    If the spay wound was stitched with nylon you need to snip the stitch out incase it becomes embedded in the skin, if it’s stitched the same there as they do here, a blanket stitch, you just need to cut carefully under the knot and pull the nylon gently out. If it’s all nice and clean and healing up, all is well.
    It worries you doesn’t it when you have left a cat for an op and they come out traumatised, I am always a stretcher case if we have to leave ours, for all I worked for vets.

    • Thanks Ruth. It was a knot above the skin which I snipped off. I can only assume some part of the string is still in the surface somewhere. There wasn’t really enough room under the knot to cut one string and pull it out totally. The know was litterally on the surface. I actually used nail clippers, the ones with the lever that ‘bite’. They don’t have such dangerous consequences if the cat moves – a pair of sharp scissors seemed to dangerous.I suppose it is as if the know it still there in terms of whats ‘in’ the skin. The know, as Isaid, was dangling there.

      • Sorry Marc I meant to say Mattrass stitch not Blanket.
        We’d usually gently lift the knot with tweezers and cut the stitch to one side of it then pull on the knot and the whole bit of nylon comes out but it sounds like yours was very tightly stitched.
        There may be a bit of nylon left in the skin, it might have worked its way out on its own or might do yet, but if you see any swelling or redness or pus it does mean a trip to the vets.
        Hopefully it will be OK!

        • Thanks Ruth. I do check and everything seems as healthy as can be. It always did actually. There was never eny redness or swelling. I was suprised that even right after the fact it just looked like a little stitch on totally white skin in the case of Gigi and darker skin in the case of Molly. No redness with either.

  3. Thanks Michael, all good advice but as you say I don’t think we can totally eliminate the fear of going to the vets whatever we do.
    We stay as calm as we can (while shaking inside lol) and Walt and Jo are used to their baskets as we keep one on top of each wardrobe so that they can have a sleep in one if they want to, which Walt does quite a lot.
    We are looking to buy 2 of those plastic carriers we saw at our vets, when we can afford it, they are called Gulliver cat carriers and come in 3 sizes, around £20 – £25 they are and what we loved about them was the hand hole in the lid, just big enough to open and put in a hand to stroke the cat inside. I think the human contact and stroking would make a cat feel secure, knowing the person they loved and trusted was there touching them, especially in the waiting room. As you said, firm stroking calms a cat.
    Cats do hate to be taken from their familiar surroundings but sometimes we have to be cruel to be kind when they need to see a vet.
    It always amazes me how quickly they recover after, we are celebrating it’s over too but still shaking from the ordeal and the frightening bill, long after the cats are happily going about their usual business lol

  4. The trouble is the whole concept of going in a box, on a journey in a car and then into a strange building that smells of other cats’ and dogs’ fear as well as disinfectant and maybe contains a barking dog or two is alien to all things that cats believe in. No matter how calm the human is (and that’s asking a lot because vet visits are more often than not because there’s something wrong so of course there’s anxiety involved)the act of getting the box out and inserting the cat is going to start the whole hellish procedure that only ends when cat and carer are safely back on home ground. That’s one thing that was so much better in the “good old days” the vet would come to the house, no problem at all, bringing a black bag containing just about everything that there was back in the consulting room. Not so these days when consulting rooms are like mini operating theatres. Mind, having said that about the good old days even our boys at only 11 years old can remember when the vet used to come to us rather than us go to them, they still do a runner if anyone comes to the house with a black bag, so the gas service man, the computer repair man, and the electrician have never actually seen either of them other than their back ends as they make a dash for the safety of their bedrooms.

  5. Lilly – my black cat – is the only one who can go anywhere in the carrier and be pretty accepting. She did travel on the train for 12 hours once too – she’s great. But if the vet takes her temperature then it’s game over. They always do. She is fine until that little violation and then she lashes out and I don’t blame her to be honest.

    Apart from Lilly I have never had a cat who can even begin to handle being taken from his or her world. Even if the carrier is there for weeks for them to lounge in and enjoy – as soon as you take them from their world it becomes traumatic. I will never like taking my cats to the vet. I didn’t take them back to have their stitches removed and for their second shot because Molly was so messed up from the operation I couldn’t put her through it. I’ll take her if she is sick but I will take the stitches out myself rather than put her through that nonsense. I know it’s not very conventional of me but if it’s not necessary I can’t do it. Operation was. If they got in a fight or sick, it would be, but standard checkup after op if she is totally fine and healed I just couldn’t do it. Gigi can handle things better and I would more easily take her. Something has made Molly very skittish and scared in her first moneth or 2 before she came to me. I don’t know what it was but it’s terribly hard for her to trust it would seem and I am very angry about the fact since I know somebody or the dog did it to her – what exactly I don’t know. So taking her to the vet was awful. When I picked them up after the op Gigi was all sleepy looking out at the front of the cage and Molly, although drugged, was frozen in total and utter fear with her ears completly flat back – it was shocking. Even seeing me didn’t calm her down. I don’t know why she is like that. She has gotten alot more trusting of me now and I can step over her if walking past without her darting off under the bed – things that Gigi never does. Gigi will totally trust. I’m angry about it but Molly is incredibly sweet and loving and she wants alot of love and she has gotten used to asking for it and being less nervous. She doesnt hang out on her own as much and she LOVES to play alot now even more than Gigi. There is nothing I can do or say about whatever might have happened to her but it’s hard not to be curious if somebody yelled at her or pushed her or something. They did mention she pooped inside once and I was thinking maybe somebody got pissed off at her and threw her outside or was rough with her. I hope she is going to be ok. But the vet is not an option for the moment unless I am worried for her health. I won’t take them for their shots until later.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please only upload photos that are small in size of max 500px width and 50 KB size. Large images typical of most default settings on digital cameras may fail to upload. Thanks.