I had to take Thomas to the vet this week because he was coughing. However, because my regular vet was sick that day, I saw another one of the doctors at my clinic. I felt fine with that, because I’ve seen several doctors at the clinic and I know they’re all excellent vets who are cat experts. And then I thought about people who haven’t taken their cats to the vet for years, if ever. It’s been about 14 years since I wrote a “why should you take your cat to the vet regularly” article, so it’s high time to do so again. But unlike other articles of this nature, I’m going to talk to you about the relationship aspect rather than “tsk tsk”-ing you about the health stuff, which you probably already know.
Why you should take your cat to the vet regularly
When it comes to good care for your cat, the thing that matters the most–other than your vet’s competence, of course–is your relationship with the vet.
1. You get to know and trust your vet
It’s really important, when you have cats, to have a vet who likes cats and who is good at handling them. Believe it or not, there are dog people and cat people, and bird people and reptile people and so on, among veterinarians just as there are among laypeople. It’s important that you know your veterinarian is one who’s good at handling and treating cats.
Knowing and trusting your vet is especially important when there’s an emergency and fast action is required to get your cat out of a crisis. It can be incredibly stressful when your cat is ill, and that can lead you to doubt yourself or your vet. If you already have a relationship with your vet, you’ll trust that they’ll treat your cat properly and that they won’t charge you for lots of extra things just because they’ve got you in a bind.
2. Your vet gets to know your cat
The more your vet knows what’s normal for your cat, the easier it will be for them to spot any health concerns. When you take your cat to the vet regularly, your vet will get to know him and how he best likes to be handled, which will make the trip less stressful for your cat. When your vet knows your cat, they’ll be able to see potential concerns–things you might not notice when you live with your cat every day. For example, when I took Thomas to the vet for his coughing, they noticed that he’d lost weight, which is something that I hadn’t noticed because the change in his weight was so gradual.
Back in our first interview with the vet post way back in 2007, Doctor Sarah (our very first Doctor Sarah, back when we lived in Maine) told us, “One of the best reasons to bring your pet for a yearly exam is so that we may get to know both the owner and the pet. It is always amazing to me how much I can learn from knowing a particular pet’s weight, coat condition, and personality. That knowledge has been invaluable when a pet returns because they are ‘just not acting right.’ Since our patients cannot tell us why they don’t feel well, we need to use these small changes in personality or grooming habits as clues to help us find the cause of their illness.”
3. Regular trips to the vet establish a relationship of mutual respect
When you take your cat to the vet regularly, your vet will see you as a person who’s deeply invested in their cat’s well-being and will respect that. This will make it easier for them to communicate with you, and for you to ask questions of them.
Asking questions from a place of mutual respect is the most important thing either of you can do to improve your relationship. It allows vets to understand that you’re asking questions not because you’re questioning your vet’s professional judgment but because you want to know what you can do as a cat guardian to keep your cat’s health in tip-top shape. It allows you to appreciate that the answers your vet is giving are coming from a place of respect toward you, with your needs and budget in mind, and with a desire for your input.
A great example of a vet question that can help you: “Does your cat do better taking medications in liquid or pill form?” Just that simple question can go miles when it comes to making sure you’re able to comply with your vet’s instructions. And if you’ve never given a cat a pill or a liquid medication, ask for instructions. Your vet or a tech will be happy to show you!
Reasons people don’t take their cat to the vet regularly
Hey, I get it: it’s not easy to take a cat to the vet. I’ve been wrangling cats to the vet since the 1990s and I’ve had to deal with a whole variety of cat behaviors at the vet and on the way there, so here are a few problems and ideas to address those issues.
1. My cat hates the carrier!
Yeah, that’s a big one. Trying to get a cat into a carrier can be a challenge. I’ve spent plenty of time chasing cats all around my apartment, into closets, under furniture, and every which place, so this technique to get your cat to like his carrier is one I learned the hard way. These are all things you should do long before your vet appointment!
Leave the carrier out
When you leave the carrier out, it becomes sort of like a piece of furniture. You may even find your cat napping in his carrier if you put it in a nice and comfortable place.
Use treats to get your cat into the carrier
When you have the carrier sitting out, get your cat into the room with some treats. Then start putting treats on the floor, getting them closer and closer to the carrier. Finally, put some treats in the carrier so your cat has to get inside the carrier to eat them. Do this for several days in a row.
Close the carrier
After your cat’s gotten comfortable going into the carrier to get treats and has successfully done this several times, close the door or flap behind him, then open it again. Do this for several more days.
Close the carrier and walk with it into another room
Once your cat is happy to get in the carrier as you open and close it, close the carrier, pick it up, and take it into the next room. Then reopen the carrier and tell your cat how good he was while giving him a treat. Do this for several days.
Close the carrier and take it to your car
After you’ve gotten your cat to be okay with being walked into another room in his carrier, the next step is to take your cat, in his carrier, out to your car. Put his carrier in the seat and buckle it in, leave him buckled in for a second, then unbuckle his carrier and take him back inside. Then give him a treat when he gets out of the carrier. Keep doing this until your cat seems comfortable.
Take your cat for a ride around the block
Take your cat to the car, buckle him in, and take him for a short ride. Don’t be surprised if he cries a little bit. That’s pretty normal. Then bring him back inside, give him a treat, and tell him what a good cat he was. Take him for gradually longer rides to get him used to being in the car for a while.
If you need to bus to your vet clinic, take your cat on the bus for one stop and back, then two stops and back, and so on, so your cat can get used to the noises of the bus. And of course, please always, ALWAYS have your cat in a carrier when you take him on the bus! The doors open too often, there are dogs and other people who might get in your cat’s space, and he might run off if you don’t have him in a carrier.
Take your cat to the vet’s office for a fun visit
Call your vet before you do this and explain that you’re trying to get your cat used to riding in a carrier, and you hope they’d be willing to help by letting you take him to the vet office, get some love and treats, and come back home. Most practices will be happy to help you with this because you’re trying to be a good cat guardian and make sure you can get your cat safely to the clinic. After you do this a few times, your cat should at least not despise the very idea of getting in a carrier and going to the vet. He may still sing the song of his people, but maybe he won’t pee or poop or vomit in the carrier on the way there.
Get medication from your vet
Veterinarians can prescribe medications you can give your cat to help him calm down for his vet visit and the trip to the clinic. If you try the technique I mentioned above and your cat is still angst-ridden and hyperventilating, ask your vet if they can give you something to give your cat before putting him in the carrier. Some people have had good luck with CBD treats, but they don’t do anything for my cats; others have had their vets prescribe gabapentin or a tranquilizer to give before the trip.
I hope it goes without saying that you should absolutely not give your own medications to your cat. Even if you take gabapentin or a tranquilizer yourself, the doses given to humans are hundreds of times bigger than the doses given to cats and your cat could die from the overdose. Even if you think you understand how little medication a cat needs, please don’t take the chance. Yes, even if you’re a human nurse or doctor. Many medications work differently in cats than they do in humans.
2. They’re going to make me get my cat tons of vaccines
Not necessarily. Every kitten should get all their kitten shots (rabies, FVRCP, feline leukemia if deemed lifestyle-appropriate), as laid out by the American Association of Feline Practitioners. but the guidelines for what and how many vaccines a cat needs change pretty regularly. Many veterinarians know the dangers of overvaccination in cats, up to and including vaccine-associated sarcomas, so any vet who knows about cats isn’t going to demand that you get all the vaccines, all the time.
3. I’m ashamed I can’t afford the care my cat needs
Your vet can help! They probably won’t be able to offer payment plans or reduced prices–trust me, lots of practices have done that with people who had the very best intentions of paying off the vet bill but then, well, life happened and the bill didn’t get paid. Vet practices operate on very narrow margins as it is (trust me, vets aren’t rolling in cash, especially in smaller or rural practices), so unpaid bills make it difficult if not impossible for your vet to stay in business.
Many vets understand that their clients are on a budget, but they don’t see that as a judgment on how much a client loves their cat. If you can help your vet to understand what your financial limitations are, they will be more than happy to work within that budget as much as possible. After all, they want your cat to be okay, too, and they know not everybody can afford an ultrasound to determine whether their cat has heart disease, for example.
There are some financial assistance programs available for people whose cats need urgent veterinary treatment, too. They vary in the resources they have available, and most of them have income guidelines to qualify people for assistance, but it’s worth asking. Back in this post about being able to afford dental treatment for a cat, I rounded up some organizations that may be able to offer financial assistance. There are other organizations that provide support for specific conditions like feline diabetes and cancer. A Google search will turn up some ideas, too.
Your vet is the other most important person in your cat’s life
Your cat loves and needs you, and he needs you to work as a team with your veterinarian to make sure he stays as healthy as possible. Hopefully by telling you about the importance of forming a relationship with your vet and giving you tips to address challenges in getting your cat there, I’ve given you some tools that will help you take your cat to the vet regularly!
Do you have any other tips for helping people get their cats to the vet? Please share them in the comments!
Thank you for the advice to take your cat for a ride around the block to get used to the car. My cat has not been to the vet since he was a kitten and it’s time for his yearly exam. He does not like the crate so it will take some coaxing to get him used to it again. It would also be smart for me to find a reputable veterinarian in my area that can help give him a check-up and make sure he is healthy.