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Jenna's formerly fearful cat has really come around. But now Jenna's cat needs to be spayed and she wants tips to help keep her kitty from having a setback.

There are things you can do to prevent a fearful cat from having a setback because of a potentially traumatic experience. Photo by JaneA Kelley

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

My 2-year-old cat that I’ve had since she was a kitten has come around so much from her scaredy cat days. She’s much more affectionate and comes around all the other animals more. I want to take her to the vet to get her spayed, but I’m afraid the visit will majorly traumatize her and set her back. Am I buggin’ to think that? Any ways to prevent her from getting set back in any way? Thank you!

~ Jenna

Tara: Well, Jenna, let me assure you that you are not buggin’ to be concerned that a trip to the vet for a spay could re-traumatize your formerly fearful cat. I’ve had some issues with fear and anxiety myself, so I know what I’m talking about here!

Thomas: But please, don’t let that prevent you from getting your cat spayed! Cats that are spayed or neutered are happier and healthier in the long run. Spaying dramatically reduces the possibility that your cat will develop mammary cancer, and it’ll keep her from having kittens that neither you nor she are ready for.

Bella: What you can do, though, is prepare ahead of time.

Tara: The first thing you should do is talk to your vet about your concerns. Your vet will most likely understand that you want to keep your formerly fearful cat from having a setback, and they might have some good ideas about how to help.

Thomas: One of these things might be a dose of anti-anxiety medication before she goes to the vet for her surgery. My auntie Nice Fingernails Lady has two cats who get really stressed about going to the vet, even for a checkup, so their vet prescribed a dose of gabapentin about an hour before they go to the clinic.

Bella: You can also ask the vet clinic staff to give her lots of extra love and attention as she recovers from her surgery so she has good associations with the experience. This is especially important because a spay usually involves an overnight stay.

Tara: You can also confirm that they will be giving your cat good pain management while she’s there. A spay is abdominal surgery, and let me tell ya, it hurts! Almost every vet clinic in the U.S. offers pain management for cats having surgery, but by confirming it you’ll feel better.

Thomas: The calmer you are, the calmer your cat will be, so make sure your vet answers any questions you have, so you know what’s going to happen and what care she’ll get.

Bella: Then for your part. First of all, make sure you put your cat’s carrier out, with the door or zipper open, for a few days before the spay. Using a calming pheromone diffuser spray in the carrier–just a squirt or two will do–will help a fearful cat have good associations with the carrier. Pheromone sprays (sold under the brand name Feliway or Comfort Zone) are synthetic “happy cat” pheromones that reduce cats’ stress level. They’re typically marketed as a way to stop inappropriate urination, which is always about either stress or illness, but they work for all types of stress.

Tara: Toss a couple of your cat’s favorite treats in her carrier and see if that gets her interested. Having her eat her favorite treats in her carrier will help her associate pleasant things with it, which will be a big help if you ever have to leave in a hurry because of, say, a fire in your building or a natural disaster. If she eats the treats, put a couple more in. Make sure you tell her what a good cat she is and give her lots of love while she’s eating treats in her carrier.

Thomas: One thing that works really well for helping a fearful cat prepare for a potentially traumatic experience is to talk to them about what’s going to happen. This may sound silly, but it really does help! Mama always talks to us about big changes before they happen.

Bella: Yes, Mama told us all about it before we moved from Maine to Seattle, and that made the whole thing a lot less traumatic for us, even though we were riding in the car for hours and hours at a time!

Tara: So, Jenna, if you do these few things, you should be able to keep your formerly fearful cat from reverting back to her scaredy-cat ways.

Thomas: But even if she does revert for a little while, the odds that she’ll come out of it more quickly will increase with the use of pheromone sprays, talking to your cat, and asking your vet about anti-anxiety medication and pain management.

Bella: Good luck, Jenna. Please let us know how things go!

Tara: What about you other readers? Have you had a fearful cat that needed to go to the vet for a surgery or other procedure? What did you do to help them cope with the experience? Please share your own tips in the comments!