Behavior Kitty Kare Korner

How to Destress Your Cat for Vet Visits

What you need to know to transport your kitty to the vet.

It’s no secret. Carriers, cars, and cats aren’t typically friends. Many people start prepping the week of and planning ahead. You’ve tried everything. Maybe if I …

… get the carrier out the night before.

… don’t get the carrier out until I have to trap him.

… put treats in the carrier.

… sneak attack and he’ll never see it coming.

It’s a process, but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve worked with so many angry kitties and yes, there is a way to get the cat in the carrier AND take them to the vet while minimizing stress for you and them.

The Physical Cat Carrier

Get a soft carrier.

tabby cat
Vito was still wearing his chemo graduation bandana for one of his check-ups.

I’ve had cats injure themselves on carriers with metal doors, AND I’ve had cats bite holes in the cardboard carriers. You’ll also have more control over how much you open a carrier if it’s soft because because it has zippers instead of an actual door.

Add a blanket or towel into the carrier.

Cats are better able to distinguish smells than dogs, so scent is HUGE for them. Something that smells like them is calming and comforting. Grab a towel or small blanket your cat has laid on and put it in the carrier. You could also give your cat an old dish towel or T-shirt the day before transportation day; place the towel in her bed or favorite spot and have her lay on it to get a fresh scent. If you can’t do that, something that smells LIKE YOU is the next best thing (aka, something used, like a hand towel that needs to be washed anyway).

Use calming spray.

Many pheromone sprays mimic the same pheromones between a mother and kitten and have a calming effect. I recommend Feliway, but there are other calming, pheromone-related sprays you can spray on or in the carrier.

Get Your Cat into the Carrier

Easy Peasy Cats

My resident cats are so easy, it isn’t fair. The opening is face up, I pick up my cat, put him/her in, and quickly zip it closed. Let’s be honest, very few cats are like that, and most of the time, it’s like squeezing a rabid tiger into your purse.

Sneaky, Aggressive Cats

For more challenging cats, it’s honestly okay to take them to a small room, sort of corner them, and put the opened carrier down in front of them. Not all cats will go in, but MANY will, especially when they don’t have an option to go somewhere else. A tiny bathroom is the best place to try this method. You can also cover the cage to make it more enticing.

Nervous Cats

Do not be nervous, dramatic, or rigid. Your cat knows. And if you’re a stressed blob, there is no way you’ll be able to get them into the carrier. Stay calm and move quickly. If you are already nervous or scared to put her in the carrier before you even try, I guarantee you won’t get her in the carrier. Calm and confident is the best way to go.

The Car Ride

You NEED to stay calm.

Your cat feels your anxiety. Don’t make her anxiety worse by adding yours to the mix. Get your head right before you get in the car.

Play classical or meditation music.

The sounds and vibrations will relax your kitty. Trust me on this. Even if you don’t like it, you need to do what’s best for your pet. Calm music only. Your car should feel like a spa.

Cover the carrier.

Covered carriers help cats stay calm. At first, they’ll probably cry and make a fuss, but eventually, they usually calm down. It is safest for everyone if your cat stays in a carrier when en route.

Buckle the carrier.

Treat the carrier like you would a person. Buckle the kitty in to limit movement, and keep them as safe as possible in case you get into an accident.


The only cat I let out of her carrier is Lucy, because she gets car sick. If I keep her in the carrier, she’d be covered in vomit by the time we’d get to the vet. I cover all of the seats with towel let Lucy out of the carrier because she ALWAYS lays on the backseats and goes to sleep. She’ll wake at some point to get sick on the towels, then relax again. She doesn’t interfere with my driving, and then she arrives NOT covered in vomit. Win-win.

Can in car
Lucy always chills in the backseat during car rides. She gets car sick, which is the reason for all the blankets.

The other times I’ll open the carrier is if 1) Someone else is driving. I’ll unzip it slightly and pet the cat. 2) For super docile kitties who don’t really move a lot, I’ll unzip the front of the carrier so they don’t feel trapped, but I also know they won’t leave the carrier. My oldest, Don Vito, is one of these. He doesn’t leave the carrier, but stops crying as soon as the door is open.


Animals can be unpredictable and even get startled by trucks and other noises during a drive. I know of someone whose kitten jumped on her and caused an accident, and she (the woman) was horribly injured. Please be smart. SAFETY FIRST.

Positive Reinforcement

While at the vet, try to do as much celebratory activity as possible – treats, kisses, chin scratches – whatever it takes. Then, when you arrive home, give your cat tons of treats, pets, and attention. This type of positive reinforcement will help make the experience less scary for them over time.

Can’t Drive to the Vet? Other Options

If vet visits are simply too stressful, here are some other options:

  • Find a mobile vet in your area who will come to your house to perform the exam and administer vaccinations.
  • Ask your vet for a little gabapentin, a calming med. Administer an hour or two before you leave, and your cat should be more relaxed.

Annual Visits Are a Must

Annual vet visits are important to monitor your pet’s health. Don’t forget to always pet and brush your cat and clean their eyes and ears. This way, you can keep an eye out for bumps, growths, mites, fleas, skin conditions, etc.

It’s really important to monitor vaccine injection sites. Why? Because some cats develop cancerous tumors there. Read all about it in this post.

By LizsKittyBootCamp

Hi, I'm Liz, and I'm a cat behaviorist who provides advice and insights on cat behavior.

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