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Tips from Jackson Galaxy: Take Your Scared Cat to the Vet (Without a Total Freak-out)

Don’t fret the vet. Here’s how to get your frightened kitty into the carrier with ease.

I thought I was a pretty good cat owner until I read Total Cat Mojo by Jackson Galaxy. You may know Jackson as the cat behaviorist on the hit TV show My Cat From Hell … he’s the ultimate cat daddy.

Jackson’s book is the definitive guide to life with your cat. Reading it, I learned so much about our cat Rex. We like to call him Wrecks because that’s what he does all the time, but now I recognize his crazy, silly, spazzy play for what it is: natural instinctive behavior.

Jackson calls this behavior Cat Mojo and learning it is the secret to creating a happy, healthy environment where your cat can thrive. It all comes down to giving your cat a steady routine of Hunt, Catch, Kill, Eat, Groom, and Sleep. In that order. Once you understand your cat’s mojo, you can make use of Galaxy’s tips and tricks otherwise known as the Cat Mojo Toolbox.

By implementing these tips, I’ve changed our family’s life for the better. Rex has stopped scratching the furniture, he sleeps through the night, and he seems calmer and happier, which is all great, but I have to say one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is how to deal with the dreaded and challenging process of getting him to the vet – worry and scratch-free. Read on as Jackson Galaxy explains how to take the “unpleasantries” out of getting your bestie to the vet by getting them comfortable and familiar with the process, pre-vet visit.

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Cat guardians generally take their cat to the vet half as much as dog guardians. Not only does it end up costing them more, but there are so many diseases that can be taken care of if found early: kidney disease, diabetes, dental disease, eyesight loss, hyperthyroid, and heart problems. These are all treatable or manageable, but the earlier you know, the easier it will be. At the very least, you should be running a senior blood panel once a year, in your healthy adult cat.

Sounds logical, right? So if you’re not doing this, what’s the hold-up? Probably because the whole process of going to the vet is an ordeal for both you and your cat—on every level. I’ve known an unbelievable number of cats throughout the years who had never been to the vet, period. Not once. And we are talking ten-year-old cats! Basically, it’s not until I call the guardians on their folly that these cats finally see the inside of a vet clinic for the first time since they were spayed or neutered. Yet another example of how the “unpleasantries” can take avoidance to a new level. So how can we get on the other side of this?

First, consider the destination: your vet’s office. Knowing what might set your cat off in terms of his or her surroundings, certain offices might be more stressful by nature. So go and visit a few in your area. Is the environment there loud or calm? What kind of ratio of dogs vs cats do they generally have? Are there separate entrances for dogs and cats? A true litmus test is if you bring up concerns about your cat’s anxiety to the staff. Are they responsive? Do they seem as if they genuinely care? I’ve had the pleasure of working with many a vet who, knowing that my cat is nervous, hustles us through the waiting room and into an exam room to avoid the stimulation. The point is, you don’t have to settle. You have lots of options these days, so do your due diligence.

So we’ve talked about the destination. Next, we have one of the most dreaded elements of vet visits: the double whammy of the journey—getting your cat there, and getting her into a carrier.

First, we need to change the carrier from a place of dread and fear to a destination, a portable basecamp.

1. Start by taking the carrier apart. Part of what will help un-do the association is if it no longer resembles the yellow station wagon. Use the bottom part as a starting point, and turn the carrier into a cocoon. Make it cozy with some bedding that contains the scent of both your cat and yourself.

2. Use treats to make that cocoon even more inviting. Give your cat a treat for any curiosity around the carrier, even if they just give it a sniff. Use the concept of “Jackpot!” treats. While training your cat to love her new den, break out the Jackpots. Break them out only around the carrier. Even better, get your cat eating her meals in the carrier. It may take a few times, moving the bowl closer and closer to her new favorite place, so have patience and push that challenge line every day!

3. Once there is a sense of predictability in terms of your cat using the carrier not just to eat treats but to hang out, even for small periods, it’s time to begin the reconstruction. First the top—use the same techniques to reinforce the continued positive association. Then the door. Then close the door for short periods. If you can get to the point where you can feed dinner with the door closed, the yellow station wagon is officially a red convertible!

4. Again, staying consistent with the association techniques that have worked best for you, pick up the carrier with the door closed (and of course the cat inside!) Don’t even go to the car the first time. Close the carrier with your cat inside, and go outside for 30 seconds. Then go back in, open the carrier, put some treats inside, and let your cat try to figure out what the heck just happened. Hint: good stuff!

5. The next step would be a short car ride, just around the block. Rinse and repeat. Make sure every trip—whether short or long whether a purely positive experience or somewhat challenging—ends with a Jackpot treat!




Photo Credit: Mare Ciok/iStock



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