In the past, I've been less nervous about air travel than I have been about my cats' veterinary appointments.
There's a reason: While I can and do manage my own levels of stress and annoyance when turning myself over to the air-travel system at the security checkpoint, controlling a cat's fear of the veterinary hospital has been for many years something I couldn't manage.
Until recently, that is.
In the years between writing "Cats for Dummies" and co-writing "Your Cat: The Owner's Manual," a huge amount of work has been done to make veterinary practices more "feline-friendly," and a lot of information about ways to keep cats calmer before, during and after their visits has become available.
With wellness checkups for my cats Ilario and Mariposa on the calendar, I reviewed my plan of action and prepared for V-Day.
Everything went perfectly. The cats traveled quietly in their carriers, were relaxed if not exactly happy at the veterinarian's, passed their wellness exams with flying colors and settled back into their routines at home without a hiccup. One even had blood drawn, which in previous visits would have meant at least two with puncture wounds – the cat and one of the humans involved.
What did I do? I started by putting the carriers out two days early and setting them in the room where the cats like sunning themselves. That meant no running when the carriers appeared. My carriers are also of a style designed just for cats by behaviorists: They're roomy and sturdy, and they break down easily in the exam room – the top can be removed, and the cat can remain comfortable and secure in the "bed" half that remains.
On the day of the visit, about an hour before we had to leave, I sprayed folded towels with Feliway – a substance that mimics a natural calming pheromone – and put them in the crates. I hadn't fed the cats so they'd be more interested in treats, and so the one who always throws up wouldn't (she didn't).
I'd closed the door on them in their sunning room so they couldn't hide elsewhere in the house.
About a half-hour before we needed to leave, I put the cats in their carriers, put the carriers on the bed and put towels with more Feliway on top of them. I left those towels in place when I put the carriers in the car and secured them with the seat belts.
When I got to my veterinarian's, her team was ready. We were put immediately in a quiet room so my cats didn't have to sit around other animals, especially dogs. With the room secured, an expert technician allowed them to wander and relax, or to just sit in their crates if that made them more comfortable. Every interaction was gentle and patient, with lots of praise, treats and petting.
Ilario does not like strangers, and he does not like being handled unless he chooses to be petted. While he wasn't happy to be there, he never reacted violently out of fear. He even tolerated a nail-clipping and the spot application of flea control, which is a hard job for me to handle. It's ideally a two-person job, and Ilario handled it just fine. As for Mariposa, she never stopped purring, even though she was due for vaccines and – since I'd recently adopted her – needed a microchip.
It was the best trip to the vet's ever, thanks to my preparation and my veterinarian's work to make her practice a place where a cat can be happy.
Cats should never be treated as if they are small dogs, and I'm so glad to see so many veterinary practices becoming feline-friendly.
You'll find guidelines for pet owners and veterinary practices at the CATalyst Council's website, catalystcouncil.org. Then talk to your veterinarian about cat-friendly care. You might be surprised at how much has changed for the better in recent years.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.petconnection.com. Back columns: www.sacbee.com/spadafori.