Has your cat been traumatised by a visit to the vet?

I was reading a section by Dr. Desmond Morris in his book Catlore and he suggested that sometimes domestic cats bite the hand that strokes them because of a traumatic experience they’ve had in the past and one example might be a visit to a veterinarian. Morris suggests that sometimes veterinarians, being fearful of a domestic cat move their fingers gently onto the cat to give the impression to the cat that they are safe but then they suddenly grab her and hold her down.

Vet with cat. The way it should be.
Vet with cat. The way it should be. Image: MikeB
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The veterinarian’s aim would be to pick up the cat without being attacked. Some vets are fearful of cats. And after grabbing the cat they may hold her down to give an injection. Cats have long memories and this experience might have been a nasty shock.

Memories of a vet visit may affect petting experience

They might remember the experience for years to come; the quiet friendly approach followed by human aggression. They may have this in mind when they are being petted by their owner and it may lead to a bite or scratch.

Bad veterinarian?
Photo Credit: Flickr User: lobstar28

Beyond tolerance

The usual reason for a cat biting or scratching their owner when being petted is because they’ve been provoked into play-fighting due to over-petting.

And domestic cats can tolerate a certain amount of stroking and petting. It is not automatic that domestic cats enjoy being petted. And certainly not beyond a certain period of time.

For the cat, petting is as if their mother is licking them. But when they’ve had enough of it the hand is no longer a mother’s tongue but the giant paw of a huge cat and it becomes threatening.

Sometimes vet visits can be traumatic for the cat

But to return to the trauma that a domestic cat might experience at a veterinarian’s clinic or indeed at a grooming parlour.

My concern is that when you leave your cat at a veterinary clinic that you don’t know very well and the same goes for a grooming parlour, you are no longer there to supervise and you don’t know what goes on. If the vet tech or veterinarian are not that good and/or fearful of domestic cats and your cat is being difficult which is highly likely they may handle your cat too brusquely which combined with the strange environment might make the whole experience traumatic. The trauma may stay with the cat for a long time.

There are some pretty frightening stories of this happening on The Conscious Cat website in comments by visitors. All the comments pretty much relate to visits to veterinarians and the change in their cat’s character after the consultation which lingered for a long time.

Transformative

Friendly, even amiable and cuddly cats before a traumatic veterinary clinic appointment can turn into scared, jumpy and nervous cats hiding away wherever they can. Or, if they are full-time indoor cats, they try and escape the home to get away from their human caregiver.

It seems that they are associating their loving human caregiver with the trauma perhaps because the owner has taken them to a place which terrified them. And this is something which, in the past, didn’t fully register with me. We all know that cat owners avoid going to the vet because of the difficulties but I wonder if people realise there might on occasions be this lingering after-effect which interferes with the caregiver’s relationship and sometimes severely.

For some felines, the trauma of going to a veterinarian’s clinic can be as bad as a cat being lost in a hurricane and then being found some days later among the wreckage of the owner’s home.

Here is an extract from a comment:

Our Cat has a bladder (cystitis) infection. We had to go to the vet and he was traumatized as usual. He is now acting very strange and distant but he did finally sit on my lap tonight.

This is quite an interesting comment because it may be the case that sometimes the owners themselves are creating an environment which can feel hostile for the cat due to an inadvertent reason. The owner takes their cat to the veterinarian which may compound their nervousness and anxiety. When they return to the home they act as if they are traumatised. I’ve suggested this in this instance because cystitis is often caused by stress or exacerbated by it. This cat might have been stressed already and then became more stressed after seeing the vet.

The cure for cystitis is antibiotics. Perhaps in an ideal world the best way to have dealt with this cat’s cystitis would have been to have had a remote consultation with the vet who then prescribed antibiotics which could be given by their owner to avoid the trauma of that visit. The difficulty here is giving antibiotics to a cat but you can get pills nowadays which are more palatable.

Returning

To return to the good feline memory. Having had a bad experience at a veterinarian’s clinic, returning to deal with another health problem may be too traumatic. It depends upon the cat’s personality clearly. But the point being made is that sometimes there is good reason to avoid going to the veterinarian although normally the reason is the cost of such a consultation.

2 thoughts on “Has your cat been traumatised by a visit to the vet?”

  1. Two questions: once the aversion reaction to anything that resembles a vet visit has occurred…any preferred way of ending that cycle of behavior? Also, we weigh ourselves and the cats early every Saturday morning. They act like we are trying to kill them and a momentary holding while I stand on the scale with each in my arms becomes a trauma for all. This happens even if the episode is followed by treats and then breakfast. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • I struggle with this one because you have to try and alter memory by implanting the concept that the vet is not a frightening place when it bloody well is a frightening place even for the owner. Perhaps a change of vet to one who is a member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, if possible, which would or should lead to more pleasant vet experiences and a gradual forgetting of the past trauma.

      Regarding the weighing I think you’ll have to change the method to one where you don’t hold them while weighing yourself. I think it is the method which upsets them. You can get pet scales but they aren’t cheap unfortunately.

      Hope you and yours are well.

      Reply

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