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The Cat Carrier: Converting a Torture Chamber into a Clubhouse

By Kim Everson, DVM

As pets, cats outnumber dogs by about 10 million in the United States! However, veterinarians see far more dogs for preventative care than cats. In fact, studies show that the number of feline veterinary visits is declining steadily each year.

Why is that? Are cats naturally healthier than dogs? Not necessarily so. It may seem obvious, but it bears saying: cats are not little dogs. They have unique nutritional requirements*, a distinctly feline pysche and their own set of health concerns.

Cats do appear to be more self-sufficient and less high maintenance than dogs. Historically cat owners are used to leaving out enough food and water for a week and provide a box to toilet in. Fluffy’s exercise often consists of watching the birds from a sunny window perch. In comparison dog owners must supply Fido with several meals a day, multiple walks outside, playtime and plenty of toys. Cats may seem to require less veterinary preventative care than dogs, but it is not so.

I myself have heard clients brag that their cat has not seen a vet in over 10 years. I’m glad their pet has not been overtly ill, but I cringe inwardly. Cats classically hide symptoms of illness. In fact, hiding is a classic sign of illness in cats. As cats age they are prone to developing dental disease, arthritis and organ diseases like diabetes and kidney failure. Thorough and regular veterinary care allows for early diagnosis and management of many debilitating and life-shortening conditions in cats.


Many pet owners have the best of intentions to provide a high level of preventative care for Fluffy. If only they could get her in the carrier! It’s a common problem. I recommend getting Fluffy accustomed to the carrier so that she doesn’t freak out when she sees it that one time of year, knowing it means a trip to the veterinary clinic.

Helping Fluffy see the pet carrier as a clubhouse and not a torture chamber requires some time and patience. Most pets actually feel safest in a snug enclosed area, so the goal is to create that feeling about the carrier. Start by getting the carrier out and leaving it out — not just when going to the veterinary clinic. (Fluffy may have the same negative learned response toward suitcases — their arrival in the bedroom signals the imminent departure of her favorite humans!)

Next, start feeding Fluffy her meals in increasing proximity to the carrier until she will actually (happily) eat while the bowl is inside the carrier. NEVER close her into the carrier against her will during this acclimation period! You can start sticking her favorite treats in the carrier for her to discover when she explores the interior more closely.  Eventually she may adopt the carrier as a snug hideout making it a lot easier for you–and less stressful and traumatic for her–to get her to the veterinarian for her annual check up.

Yep, I said “annual.” Even though most feline vaccines do not need to be given every year, an annual veterinary visit is essential to keeping Fluffy healthy and happy for years to come. Depending on your cat’s lifestyle, age and  clinical signs your veterinarian may recommend blood or urine screening tests, deworming or weight management programs. As cat owners already know, cats are not small dogs and require a special touch. But they still do require veterinary care.

* Prior to the 1970s cats ate a modified dog-food formula which was low in the nutrient taurine. Taurine deficiency led to blindness and heart disease in many cats. Since the 1970s, pet food companies have designed foods to meet the unique nutritional requirements of cats.

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