Cat insurance special: Get me to the vet

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A kitten with cat insurance goes into the vet for a regular check up.

Dr. Jane Matheys
Associate Veterinarian
The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Even though there are more pet cats than dogs in the US, 40% of cats have not been to the veterinarian in the past year. There are also significantly less cats with pet insurance than dogs. One of the main reasons that cats are less frequently seen at vet clinics is because so many cats vehemently resist being put in a carrier and transported. It can be very stressful to the cats, and even more so to the owners. One way to diminish stess associated with costly vet bills is to look into cat insurance early on. Pet health insurance can make vet costs more afforable so you will be able to provide your kitty with the best care available.

A 2011 veterinary care usage study said that 37.6% of cat owners surveyed said just thinking about a veterinary visit was stressful! Don’t let this deter you from getting your cats the veterinary care they need and deserve. There are many things cat owners can do to make the trip to the vet easier for both you and your cats.

Cats are most comfortable in their own space and with people, places and situations they are familiar with. The visit to the veterinarian is often difficult because the carrier, car and clinic are unfamiliar. The goal is for your cat to learn to associate the carrier with positive experiences and routinely enter it voluntarily. While this process is best started with kittens, carrier training is truly possible at any age, although it may take a bit more effort with older cats.

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Begin by choosing a hard-sided carrier that opens from the top and the front, and can also easily be taken apart in the middle. This makes it possible for anxious, fearful cats to stay in the bottom half of the carrier for exams. Make the carrier your cat’s “home away from home.” Make it a comfortable resting, feeding or play location. Leave the carrier out in areas your cat likes to frequent, especially in favorite sunspots. Place fleece or other comfortable bedding that has the scent of your cat’s favorite person on it into the carrier along with a favorite toy.

Every day toss a favorite treat or kibble into the carrier so it becomes seen as an automatic treat dispenser by your cat. Feed your cat in the carrier. If your cat is afraid to enter, start by feeding right at the carrier door and gradually move the dish farther inside. Periodically use an interactive toy (a fishing pole-type with feather or fabric) to direct play to the carrier, encouraging your cat to jump in and out. It may take days or weeks before your cat starts to trust the carrier. Remain calm and patient, and reward desired behaviors with treats in the form of food, play or affection. The point of these exercises is to make the carrier a routine part of your cat’s life, not something that is associated with a dreaded experience.

When your cat is comfortable being in the carrier, close it up with the cat inside, calmly pick it up and walk for just a couple steps and then open it. Over time, take your cat on longer tours of your home inside the carrier. If your cat is anxious, you’ve done too much too fast. Back up to whatever point in training your cat had accepted, and then proceed slowly. Eventually you can even try teaching your cat to jump inside the carrier on cue with treats, toys or clicker training.

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Once your cat is used to the carrier, take the cat on short car rides. The carrier should be placed somewhere in the car where it won’t slide or be jostled-that can frighten a cat. ome cats like the carrier to be covered with a towel or blanket, while others prefer to be able to see out. Try to make the trips as rewarding as possible with calming conversation, treats popped through the closed carrier door or even play. Keep the car windows closed, and avoid loud music on the radio and sharp turns. Mix in some fun trips or maybe a social visit to the veterinary office just to get a treat or two.

Another excellent way to reduce feline veterinary visit anxiety is to acclimate your cat to being handled as they would during an examination. Gently touch your cat’s paws, look into its ears, open its mouth, and run your hands over its legs and body similar to what your cat will encounter during the veterinary visit.

It takes time and patience, but you can be instrumental in helping your cat have more relaxed veterinary visits and improved healthcare.

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