Taking your cat to get its vaccinations sucks — for everyone involved. Cats obviously hate shots. They hate getting into the carrier. They hate traveling to the vet. They hate the smell of the vet clinic and the other animals in the lobby. They hate the vet tech that takes them out of their carrier. They hate the vet that examines them and gives them the vaccine. And then they hate the whole trip home, and spend at least a day hating you for making them go through that agony. I have thousands of thin tiny scars on my lower arms, all from my eight years of being the vet tech that took the cat out of the carrier and held it during the exam. I was the “caution cat” tech, meaning they called me in for the most challenging kitties, most of whom were just afraid and hurting. Over the years, I learned a few tricks to make it less challenging for both the kitty and the owners.

Tips for Taking Your Cat to the Vet

If you’re planning a trip to the vet, take the cat carrier out several days before the vet visit (and if you don’t have a cat carrier, get one — the cardboard ones are fine and cheap — because nothing stresses out a cat more than being loose in a lobby full of strange animals). Leave the door open and let the cat sniff around it. Consider putting in a touch of catnip to make it enticing (not the day of the vet appointment). On the day before the appointment, put away your cat’s foods, and a few hours before the appointment remove the water as well. This can help prevent fear-related accidents, which can stress kitties out even more (no one wants to be forced to wallow in their own waste, after all). The day of the appointment, place your kitty in the carrier an hour or so before you leave. This gives them time to settle down and accept the crate. Once you arrive at the vet hospital, turn off your car’s engine and sit for fifteen minutes or so. Most kitties find being in a car stressful, and this can again give them time to calm down. At the vet, let the technician remove your cat and handle it during the exam and vaccinations. This way the cat won’t blame you quite as much for being involved in such an indignity. If your cat has scratched or bitten at a previous appointment, please let the veterinary technician know. You might save her a few arm scratches. Once you get your kitty home, set the cat carrier down on the floor and open it. Let your cat exit the carrier on their own. When your kitty exits (and there are two types of cats: bolters who run and hide as soon as the carrier is open, and nervous nellies who creep out slowly), if you can, use a kitty wipe (basically a baby wipe for cats) on your cat’s fur to help get rid of the smell of the vet office more quickly. This will soothe your kitty immensely. Unlike when I was a vet tech, cats no longer have to get yearly shots — but it is recommended they still get a yearly physical. According to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) guidelines — updated in January of 2016 — low risk cats can wait three years or longer between vaccination boosters.

So what do the new vaccine guidelines recommend for your cat?

The rabies vaccine is a bit trickier, as it depends greatly on your geographical area and your state and region’s legal requirements. Trust your veterinarian's recommended schedule for rabies as she will take these factors into consideration. Again, it is important for your veterinarian to see your cat on an annual basis, regardless of the need for vaccinations. If your cat is like mine and really hates that whole carrier-travel-vet thing, you may want to look for veterinarians that do house calls (more common today than ever). But without the shots each time, your cat might decide to hate the vet (and the vet tech!) a bit less.

Written by Cecily Kellog