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Tips to take cats to the vet, scratch-free

Monday - 3/31/2014, 11:12am  ET

cats (WTOP/Lacey Mason)
Cats have different personalities so you have to figure out what works best to get them to the vet. (WTOP/Lacey Mason)
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Omama Altaleb, special to

WASHINGTON -- Although there are more cats as pets in the U.S. -- with a population of 74 million to 86 million -- cats receive less veterinary care than dogs, studies by the American Humane Association reveal.

The reason why cats don't go to the veterinarian as often as dogs is because it is so difficult to get them there, says Dr. Elizabeth Arguelles, owner and veterinarian of Just Cats Clinic in Reston, Va.

"You have to take your cat into the facility if they need surgery, X-rays or if they're really sick," Arguelles says.

"Feline practitioners like myself are working really hard to try to make it as easy as it can be."

Here are some tips from Arguelles and host of "The Pet Show" Dr. Katy Nelson, on how to make the trip to the vet stress-free and scratch-free.

Tip one: the carrier

Arguelles suggests training the cat by leaving the cat carrier out.

"They may not actually sleep in it or do anything in it, but at least it's not something that comes out of the closet or basement when they only go to the vet," Arguelles says.

If the carrier has been in the basement or closet for a while now, it's not too late to get the cat more acquainted with it. Arguelles recommends putting treats in the carrier to reduce your cat's fear of the carrier.

"I've actually had clients that have had to cancel their appointments because they couldn't actually get their cat into the carrier, or their cat was hiding under the bed," Nelson says.

Nelson says getting the cat used to the carrier beforehand makes it easier when there is an unplanned visit to the vet hospital in the case of an emergency.

One thing you can do to make a cat feel safer in the carrier is to wipe it down with Feliway wipes, which mimick a cat's natural facial pheromones.

"It lets your cat know it's a safe place, and it can help lower their stress level," Arguelles says.

In terms of what carriers to use, Arguelles suggests the top loading ones since they are easier to lower the cat into than a carrier that opens to the side. Nelson prefers any carrier that has multiple entry points.

If your cat doesn't easily comply and go into the carrier, you can put it in a small room or bathroom to keep it from running or hiding under the bed. Then if you can, Arguelles says, grab both front paws and back paws, then lower the cat in backward rather than face first.

If that doesn't work, Arguelles says, "I have the patients bring them in laundry baskets as a last resort."

Nelson has had clients bring their cats in pillowcases when they don't go into carriers.

Once in the carrier, laundry basket or pillowcase, put the cat in the backseat and buckle it in.

"If you have a kitty that is absolutely positively terrified of getting in the car and going somewhere, then a house call veterinarian might be an option for you," Nelson says.

She especially recommends this for cat owners who have more than one pet so they can all get their vaccines updated and get blood drawn while still being in their natural environment.

Tip two: the vet

To ensure a comfortable experience for your cat, Arguelles suggests looking for a vet practice that is certified as pet-friendly. The American Association of Feline Practitioners has a cat-friendly certification program that encourages practices to think about the cat's comfort in waiting rooms.

While at the vet, you can take these measures to make the process smoother:

  • Keep your cat off of the floor in the waiting room. Cats feel safer when they are higher up, Arguelles says.
  • Schedule an appointment during less busy times.
  • Ultimately, try to find a practice that works with your cat.

"Most cats do really really well, there are some that are just completely terrified and get into the fight-or-flight response, and in those cases, it's sometimes best to use sedation to give them a full examination so they aren't so scared and so no one gets hurt," Arguelles says.

Nelson has witnessed cats that will harm themselves because they get so stressed out. In those situations, she suggests talking to a vet about anti-anxiety medication to get prior to the visit.

"For a long time we've used sedatives, and I don't really feel like sedatives are actually the right way to go because they're not going to take the edge off. They're still going to be just as stressed out and scared. They're just not going to be able to do anything about it," Nelson says.

"There are cats absolutely petrified to be in the vet's office, but every cat that comes in is very different," Nelson says.

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