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5 Tips to Make Vet Visits Less Stressful for Cats

Does your cat need to visit the V-E-T? Here are some ways you can make the visit less stressful…for everyone!

Studies conducted over the past ten years show that less than half of cat owners routinely take their cat to the vet, compared with 80% of dog owners. This means that more than 50% of cats are not receiving regular check-ups (at least once a year) or preventative health care and monitoring. While many of these studies were conducted overseas, the results give us an indication of the situation in other countries of similar socio-economic standing and pet ownership demographics.

In Australia, a current estimation of the number of pet cats is 3.8 million, with approximately 27% of households owning a cat (an average of 1.4 cats per household). This equates to a ballpark estimate of 2 million Australian cats who are missing out on regular health care.

That’s a lot of cats. Imagine how many health problems are not being identified and treated among our beloved feline family members. Yet, we love our cats dearly. We worship them. We slave over them. We let them shed fur, hack up hairballs in the most inconvenient places, wake us up at ungodly hours to be fed, sit on our laps just as we want to stand up, hijack our Zoom meetings and claim the most comfortable spots on our bed and furniture. 

Photo Credit: PETstock Assist National Pet Adoption Month

So why are some of us not ensuring they have basic health care and monitoring?

Cat owners cite several reasons for their moggie going AWOL from regular health checks. One of the most common reasons is that their cat gets too stressed during the trip and the vet visit.

This is a real and valid concern. Any day that a cat needs a trip to the vet is going to be a bad day for them, but there are ways to minimise the stress associated with visits. Consider the cat’s perspective towards some of these contributing factors to their stress:

✔️ Missed breakfast (if fasting prior to surgery)
✔️ Change in normal routine (cats are creatures of habit)
✔️ Appearance of the pet carrier
✔️ The car journey
✔️ Noisy waiting room (dogs, other cats, strange people, phones ringing)
✔️ Strange handlers (veterinary staff)
✔️ Being dragged / tipped out of the pet carrier
✔️ Strange smells (waiting and consulting rooms, on vet staff clothing)
✔️ Slippery and cold examination table and weighing scales
✔️ Being restrained for procedures (taking temperature, blood tests, physical examination)
✔️ Foreign environment (if the cat is hospitalised)

You might have heard of the Five Freedoms (and five domains) of Animal Healthcare, which were adopted by the RSPCA in 1993. These are:

1. Freedom from hunger and thirst – (domain = nutrition) by ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigour

2. Freedom from discomfort – (domain = environment) by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area

3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease – (domain = health) by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment

4. Freedom to express normal behaviour – (domain = behaviour) by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind

5. Freedom from fear and distress – (domain = mental state) by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering

All of these Freedoms are crucial, however if we focus on #3: Freedom from pain, injury or disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment we can begin to consider why regular vet monitoring is important, even if we think our cats are healthy. We can also consider the value of veterinarians offering a cat-friendly service which does not cause pain, injury, disease, discomfort, fear or distress in its patients.

(It should be noted that meeting these Five Freedoms is not enough to ensure your cat’s quality of life – simply minimising or preventing these negative experiences is not as beneficial as providing positive, enriching experiences, however it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss this in detail).

Taking steps to minimise the negative impact of these stressors begins before you even leave home. While none is a magical cure, each can lower the level of stress, making the experience easier for both your cat and for you.

Tip #1 – The pet carrier

If a vet visit is planned, bring the pet carrier out of the garage/cupboard a day or two in advance and leave it in a location where your cat can explore and get used to its presence. This will minimise the connection between the carrier’s appearance and immediate travelling.

It can be useful to put food or treats inside the carrier with the door left open, allowing your cat to associate the carrier with a pleasant experience. Spraying the carrier and bedding with a synthetic pheromone such as Feliway can also help calm your cat. 

The carrier should be large enough for your cat to stand up, lie down fully and turn around comfortably; many carriers purchased for a new kitten rapidly become too small. There should be appropriate bedding/padding and good ventilation.

Arya's pet carrier served another generation of cats before her but she doesn't seem to mind...

Tip #2 – The car trip

Most cats really don’t like to travel. Some will serenade their owner with melodic yowling the entire journey; others will vomit or defaecate in their carrier. 

Even those cats who remain quiet will be suffering a degree of stress, so assume your cat is unhappy and consider how you can address this. Firstly, it is much safer to use a proper pet carrier rather than an open box, blanket or washing basket, and safer for the carrier to be strapped into the back seat of the car, rather than the front seat or perched on someone’s lap. 

Think about the temperature inside the car and turn off the radio. Consider covering the carrier with a light blanket or towel to minimise light and external distractions (cats like to hide). In extreme cases, your vet might prescribe medication to reduce the level of trauma your cat experiences during the trip and visit to the clinic.

Tip #3 – Is your vet Cat-Friendly? 

What to look for in your veterinary clinic:

Many veterinary clinics have now become recognised by the International Society of Feline Medicine as being “Cat Friendly Clinics”. There are three levels of accreditation: Bronze, Silver and Gold, which address the following areas:

✔️ Handling of cats and cat clients within the clinic
✔️ Communicating with owners
✔️ Waiting and reception area
✔️ Consulting rooms
✔️ Hospitalisation of cats
✔️ Operating theatre and anaesthesia
✔️ Equipment for surgical operations and other procedures (diagnostic and therapeutic)

Even if your local clinic is not formally accredited, they should still be employing many of these recommendations, simply because they are in the best interests of their feline patients’ health and wellbeing. Many of the cat-friendly criteria do not need to cost clinics a lot of money to implement; they just require some rethinking about how they offer their services.

If you’re not sure what cat-friendly practices your local veterinarian employs, it is well worth finding out before you schedule your cat’s appointment. 

Is your clinic too busy to explain to clients how they strive to provide appropriate services for cats and cat owners? 
Are they too busy to give you a guided tour of their cat-friendly features, or so busy that they need to rush through appointments and procedures in a way that creates additional trauma and risk to the safety and health of their feline patients? If they are not happy to answer all your questions and address your concerns beforehand, ask yourself if this is really the clinic for you, how committed they are to the welfare of your cat and how much they value your business.

Tip #4 – The waiting room

Ideally there should be a cat-only waiting room, or at a minimum be divided between cats and other species (especially dogs) so that dogs are not visible. 

Photo Credit: Cat Friendly Clinic

Cats also don’t like to see other cats, and they like to be up high, so shelving should be available for carriers with vertical barriers between them, and keep your carrier covered while in the waiting area (this also minimises the spread of infectious diseases between cats). 

If your clinic is not able to separate the waiting room into separate areas for dogs and cats, ask if they schedule appointments separately, eg: appointments for cats only in the mornings and dogs only in the afternoons, so that cats are not subjected to the additional stress of being barked at or smelling dog smells.

Tip #5 – The consulting room and cat ward

As with the waiting area, consulting rooms should be designated as cats-only, and clinic staff should clean the room, equipment (such as weighing scales and stethoscopes) and their hands and change their work shirts in between animals so that pets are not stressed by the smells of previous patients. 

Once you are in the consulting room, place the carrier on the floor and allow your cat to come out in their own time to explore the room. NEVER drag or tip your cat out of their carrier. If they don’t want to come out, they can be examined while remaining in the carrier by removing the roof. 

Arya's first health & wellness check went very smoothly; our vet's feedback "I like this one!"

If your cat is happy to sit on the consulting table, ensure it has a non-slip mat and soft bedding like a towel, which the clinic should be changing between each patient.

If your cat needs to stay in the hospital, there should be a separate cat ward with minimal noise, dim lighting, and the cages should be large enough to house a “hide box” and a shelf (cats feel safer hiding and up high), and a litter tray which is well away from food and water bowls.

Ventilated Cat Condo - Photo Credit: Therian Animal Care Solutions

Some clinics will partially cover cages with a towel across the front, which is acceptable if the cage doesn’t have a hide. Cages should not face one another (again, because cats don’t like seeing other strange cats). Cat wards also benefit from plug-in pheromone diffusers and soft calming music.

Veterinary staff with appropriate training in handling feline patients will never grab or tightly restrain cats; rather, they will take their cues from the cat and work around the cat’s preferences. Older cats with osteoarthritis or with other pre-existing pain, need to be handled especially carefully. Cats should NEVER be scruffed – a more appropriate way of holding them is to wrap them in a towel. 

Consider how much you would enjoy being roughly manhandled and rushed by strangers when you were already feeling scared and anxious, and it’s easy to see why cats (and cat owners) hate vet visits and experience “white coat syndrome”.


While none of the above recommendations and suggestions are going to make a visit to the vet a wonderfully happy experience for your cat, utilising any/all of the above principles will go a long way towards reducing the stress and anxiety associated with visits, for your cat and also for you. 

Many cat owners report that once they are satisfied that they and their clinic are doing their best to minimising the negative effects, they are much more likely to schedule regular appointments for annual health checks and other preventative measures, and more likely to seek veterinary advice sooner if their cat becomes unwell. 

This is a win-win for you and your cat because they will receive the health care they need with minimal trauma, and you will be happier knowing they are being looked after to the best of your (and your vet clinic’s) ability.

Finally, if you prefer, there are many mobile veterinarians who will make house visits, or your own vet might also offer a home visit service. Many people prefer this for euthanasia of their pet, and it could also be appropriate for some other appointments. 

However, be aware that some veterinary equipment or facilities will not necessarily be available for home visits so this is not always a viable option. Ask your vet about their home visit protocols and the associated costs. Alternatively, you could consider attending a cat-only vet clinic, which eliminates many dog-associated stressors.

For more information about cat friendly clinics, see

Other references:

1. Animal Medicines Australia: Pets in Australia: a national survey of pets and people: 

written by Candice Drew, February 2021 for Australian Cat Lover (all rights reserved).

About the Writer

Candice qualified as a veterinary nurse in Australia in 2005, being awarded the Novartis Award for Outstanding Achievement in Veterinary Nursing in her qualifying year. 

She has worked extensively in Australia and the UK, and is a UK Registered Veterinary Nurse. Candice is experienced in general practice, shelter nursing and referral nursing (Surgery and Emergency & Critical Care [ECC]). 

She attained the Diploma of Veterinary Nursing (surgical) in 2009, qualified as a trainer & assessor in 2015, and completed the ISFM Diploma in Feline Nursing in 2018. Candice is interested in most aspects of veterinary nursing but her passions are feline nursing, ECC and working with students. 

Candice is the happy slave of an 11-year-old rescue cat named “Maggie”, whom she adopted in January 2018.

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