Cracking the Code of Feline Vet Visit Acute Fear and Anxiety

Cracking the Code of Feline Vet Visit Acute Fear and AnxietyCats are one of the most popular pets in the United States and although most cat owners cherish their feline companions and consider them family members, they are substantially underserved in veterinary medicine compared to their canine counterparts, with greater than 60% not receiving annual care compared to 18% of dogs Behaviors related to acute anxiety and fear are among the top reasons cat owners forgo transport and veterinary visits

Why do cats fear veterinary visits?

Routine medical care is essential for all feline life stages, and the stress of veterinary visits on cats and their owners can be a barrier to routine care – 59% of cats were reported to exhibit signs of distress during car travel and 66% of cats were reported to exhibit signs of distress during veterinary visits.

Cats are creatures of habit, and being taken out of their comfort zone can trigger anxiety. Strange sights, smells, and sounds coupled with being handled by strangers during examination can create sensory overload resulting in distress. If untreated, acute fear and anxiety worsen with each additional experience, compounding the distress of being placed into a carrier, transported, and being handled for a comprehensive physical exam.5

Cats are not small dogs; cats rank safety over social attachments, and they can form dramatic associations from single experiences, like a negative first experience at the vet.

Signs of feline acute fear and anxiety

Cats, known for their independent and mysterious nature and attachment to a place, will convey signs of acute fear and anxiety through avoidance or repulsion behaviors Understanding the behavior differences allows us to appreciate the spectrum of clinical signs associated with the condition. Common clinical signs of feline acute anxiety and fear can be subtle to severe, and they include freezing, hiding, retreating, fleeing, growling, hissing, scratching, and biting. It’s important to note that a feline patient exhibiting signs of aggression may be just as stressed as a “catatonic” frozen kitty, and we must never assume that the latter – who may be amenable to examination – is experiencing positive emotions.

Body, head and neck, ear, tail, and eye positions are great indicators of how our patients are feeling about their current situation and can quickly be identified during the passive, hands-off portion of the veterinary visit. So now what? Once we’ve identified feline acute anxiety and fear, we can have a plan in place to mitigate including:

  • Gradual desensitization: Make the carrier a fun, familiar, and comfortable space by leaving it out in the home and adding bedding, toys, and treats (have Churus, will travel!) Recommend short car rides to help cat patients better acclimate to vehicular motions and sounds. Schedule visits to the vet clinic for socialization and minor procedures, like weight tracking. Celebrate success by rewarding with treats and praise after each successful outing to cultivate a pawsitive association with the experience.
  • Consider PVPs: For cat patients who cannot be appeased by the feline-friendly clinic and handling techniques, talk with the pet owner about leveraging pre-visit pharmaceuticals.

Mitigating acute anxiety and fear in cats during visits aligns with a holistic approach to their overall well-being. By considering their emotional needs along with their physical health, we can better provide comprehensive care.

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