Fear Free works best when the initiative first begins at home.
We recommend the following preparations prior to the veterinary hospital visit:
- Desensitize your cat to its carrier. If you have the space, make the carrier a part of your family room furniture so it is not always associated with a stressful event. Alternatively, bring out the cat carrier a few days before their scheduled appointment so that they can acclimate to it. Give them treats in the carrier. Place a soft, comfy blanket sprayed with a facial feline pheromone, called Feliway, to soothe them. Feliway is available at many pet stores and online. Making your cat’s carrier a welcoming place to rest helps prevent the association of carrier and stressful ride to a veterinary hospital.
- Bring your cat hungry to the clinic. Reduce or skip breakfast for a morning appointment if not medically contraindicated. Bring your cats favorite treats to their appointment. This gives us the chance to share treats with our patients and help associate us with good things. If you forget, don’t worry; we have plenty baby food and treats to give your cat.
- Stay relaxed. Like children, when we are anxious or agitated, our pets get anxious or agitated. So, take a deep breath and relax. Worrying in advance of the visit does not help anyone!
- Talk to us! No one knows your cat better than you and that’s why it is important that you act as its advocate. Tucked tail, pacing, excessive shedding, growling and panting are common signs of fear and stress in cats. If your cat has displayed any of these signs during a previous veterinary visit, please tell us and we can advise you how to minimize your pet’s stress in the future.A synthetic pheromone (called Feliway) that mimics a naturally calming chemical in the body can be sprayed on towels and then, placed in carriers to encourage a peaceful trip to our veterinary clinic. Additionally, there are nutraceutical products, like Solliquin, which can be given in advance of a visit to help relax your cat. My favorite pharmaceutical relaxing agent is called Gabapentin. Traditionally used as a pain medication, it has a wonderful calming effect on cats if given the night before the visit and 1-2 hours before the appointment. Just call us for advice. We want to help you make your visit to our clinic as pleasant as possible.
Once you arrive at the clinic:
- Minimize use of the waiting room. Call us at 773.525.3353 on your cell phone and let us know that you have arrived at our parking lot. We can meet you at either front or side door and bring you to our private feline-only examination room on the second floor. This avoids the waiting room where it may be a bit noisy and dogs may be present. If you choose to wait in the waiting room, please do not put your cat’s carrier on the floor. This adds to their stress and allows dogs to get too close to their carrier. Place the cat carrier on a chair or bench so they can avoid this dog interaction.
- Once in the feline-only examination room, we recommend that you open your cat’s carrier door and let them exit on their own. Let them explore the room where we have special shelving units for them to climb up on and games to play with. Do NOT tip the cage and drag the cat out. This only enhances their stress level. If they choose not to exit on their own, take the top off their carrier and soothingly stroke them. If a cat likes to be brushed or combed, bring a brush or comb along and groom them while they acclimate to our room.
- In the Feline-Only examination room, your cat will be presented with a towel sprayed with Feliway to help calm them. They can sit on this towel or hide under it – what ever they choose is fine with us. Additionally, a soft mat will be placed on the examination table so they don’t have to touch the cold stainless steel examination tabletop. Both of these will proactively reduce your cat’s stress and anxiety.
- When a veterinary assistant enters the room, they will enter quietly and with little commotion. They will take your cat’s medical history and, if non-stressful, weight your cat. We no longer routinely take rectal temperatures on presumably healthy patients – this aggravates to most cats and does not need to be done at a well-visit.
- When the veterinarian arrives in the room, a complete physical examination will be performed in a gentle manner. If your cat is distraught, this examination will be paused and the veterinarian will discuss with you alternative ways to proceed. This may include a sedative injection or an option to return another day after you pre-medicate your cat with a recommended anti-anxiety medication.Regretfully, anti-anxiety medications are NOT effective once a pet has become stressed. They must be given at least 1-2 hours before a stressful event to be effective. Do NOT be embarrassed that you have to return another day. It happens even in the best-tempered cats. We also are mindful that if your cat has an unpleasant veterinary visit today, the next visit will most likely be worse. We definitely don’t want to go down this miserable pathway especially, when our goal is to have a long, happy relationship with our patients.
- Create a sense of calm in the room. Entrances in and out of examination room will be kept to a minimum to reduce startling your cat.
- Unless medically necessary, your cat will remain in your presence. Being surrounded by familiar people comforts cats and we respect and acknowledge this. However, if you prefer not to be present, let us know this too! We do not wish you to faint when we draw blood!
- If your pet is painful, before an examination is performed, we will recommend an injectable pain medication before we proceed. Your pet’s comfort is a top priority for us.
We understand that our pets need to be treated with care and patience in an environment that is designed with comfort in mind.
We strongly believe that having calmer, less stressed and fearful patients is best for everyone involved and leads to better deliverance of veterinary medical care.
We hope you enjoy your next Fear-Free veterinary visit at Animal Medical Center of Chicago.
Donna Solomon, DVM
& Staff of Animal Medical Center of Chicago