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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

Two vet techs restrain a cat for a nail trim.

Restraining a cat for a nail trim. Photo CC-BY-ND Jeffrey Beall

My cat, Graylie, was traumatized during a hospital stay by his treatment and the staff.  He had a really high temperature, so they had him immobilized with an IV and he was sitting on a cold grill that had freezing air under it.  He screamed for the entire two days he was there.

I got him to a vet after that, but he went berserk there and they were very rough with him in order to do his exam and cut his nails. The next time I tried to take him to the vet to get his annual rabies booster, her fought me and I couldn’t get him in the carrier. I’ve bought “calming” stuff at the pet store — various kinds, expensive stuff — and I don’t see that it helps.

I’ve investigated having a vet come to the house, but that vet is going to bring a helper that sounds like muscle to wrestle the cat. I’m not glad to think about Graylie being manhandled in his own home.

What other options do I have? I’ve been told by a vet that sedating him is a bad idea. Do you agree? He is past his time for his rabies protection now; fortunately, he is an indoor cat, but I’m out of compliance with state law. Is there any way I can calm him at home long enough to get him into a carrier?

~ Karen

Siouxsie: We certainly don’t blame poor Graylie for being traumatized by that! Wow, what an ordeal!

Thomas: One of the reasons why cats get to the vet so much less often than dogs is because so many cats don’t like carrier rides and lead their people on a merry chase, which often ends up with the cat disappearing and the person having to call the vet and cancel the appointment.

Bella: House-call vets can be a godsend for people whose cats freak out at the vet, and that may be a good option for your Graylie.

Siouxsie: We understand your concerns about the vet’s assistant being “muscle” to wrestle the cat. However, many restraint techniques may look like wrestling but, when done properly by people who know cat behavior, make the physical exam and treatment safer and less traumatic for owner, vet clinic staff and cat alike.

Thomas:  There are some great videos available on how to handle and restrain fractious cats. Veterinarian and animal behavior pioneer Dr. Sophia Yin (1966-2014) shared this video of correctly restraining a feral cat for an examination.

Bella: In this 10-minute training video from DoveLewis Animal Emergency Hospital in Portland, Oregon, a pair of vet nurses demonstrate safe restraint techniques for a very fractious cat who has been “fired” from two other clinics because of his aggressiveness:

Siouxsie: So, Karen, you can see that vet clinic staff trained in safe, low-stress restraint techniques can keep even a freaked out cat from getting hurt or hurting the people trying to treat him. And probably this is why the house-call vet wants to bring an assistant. Just make sure that both the vet and the assistant are experienced and comfortable with restraining cats — it’s a lot different from restraining dogs!

Thomas: You may know your cat better, but a trained professional will be able to quickly and restrain Graylie in a way that’s not about manhandling but about safety.

Bella: Whether the vet is visiting your home or you’re taking Graylie to the clinic, he’s going to be restrained if he’s as aggressive as he sounds.

Siouxsie: Your vet said sedation is a bad idea. We’re not veterinarians, and even if we were, we don’t know your cat and we don’t have his medical history in front of us, so we can’t make any judgments about that. Some cats are a poor sedation risk because of health issues, but we don’t know if your cat is one of those.

Thomas: Sometimes sedation is required for the cat’s safety as well as that of the clinic’s staff. When Kissy had to have X-rays of her bad leg, the clinic staff had to sedate her because she was screaming and fighting and trying to bite — and she was ordinarily pretty cool at the vet.

Bella: When a cat is sedated for diagnostics or treatment, that cat is carefully monitored by the vet and the techs, and the sedation is reversed as soon as it’s no longer needed.

Siouxsie: You can try some of the restraint techniques on your own if you want to try and get Graylie into a carrier, but Mama has found that the easiest way to get us into the carrier is to take it out the night before she’s going to take us somewhere and leave it open for us to explore.

Thomas: Dr. Patty Khuly wrote a list of tips for getting your cat to like (or at least, accept) the carrier so you can get him to the vet.

Bella: What about you other readers? Have you found house-call vets to be helpful for your skittish or aggressive kitties? What techniques have you used to get your cat to love the carrier? Do you have any other tips to help Karen help Graylie? Please share them in the comments.