Ozzie is a beautiful cat, black with perfectly placed patches of white on his chin and his chest, a fluffy purr machine whose job in life is sitting in the lap of my friend Jan. His veterinarian wouldn't recognize the lovely cat he is at home, though, because in her office he's a spitting, slashing, yowling feline demon.
Sweet Ozzie is not alone in his Jekyll-and-Hyde routine.
Taking a cat to the veterinary hospital can be an ordeal for all involved. For many cats, the only time they leave home is to be taken to a place that smells funny, is often full of dreadful d-o-g-s, and has strange people who poke and prod them and handle them in ways they'd rather not be. The first sight of a carrier is often the last sight of a cat -- stupid, they are not. Although most cats are more cooperative than Ozzie, the difficulties in getting cat and veterinarian together may be enough to keep a cat-lover from making an appointment. This delay can keep cats from getting the preventive care they need, or even prompt attention to illnesses that could turn serious.
Although you may not ever make your veterinarian your cat's favorite human being, you can do a few things to make the trip easier. Here are a few tips:
-- Use a carrier. A startled or frightened cat is hard to hold onto, and either or both of you could be injured if you try -- or you may lose your cat in the parking lot. No matter how much you want to comfort your pet, leave him in the carrier until you're safely behind the closed door of the examination room.
-- Get your cat used to his carrier. If the only time your cat sees his carrier is when he's going to the veterinarian's, you may have a hard time putting him in it. Bring the carrier out of the closet from time to time, and put it in the middle of the room. Leave the door open, put treats or toys inside, and let your cat explore.
-- Take trips that don't end with a shot. Put your cat in his carrier and take a short car trip now and then. A towel over the carrier may make your pet feel more secure -- not only in the car, but also in the vet's waiting room.
-- Avoid feeding your cat before the appointment. Don't give your cat food within three hours of a trip to the veterinarian's. He could vomit during the car ride, and some blood tests are not valid if taken soon after a meal.
-- Avoid the use of tranquilizers. Don't give your cat a tranquilizer without consulting your veterinarian first -- even if you've given them before and have them in your medicine chest. These drugs may mask symptoms of illness.
-- Work to minimize stress. If your cat is especially freaked out by dogs (as is often the case if he doesn't live with one), ask for the first appointment of the day or the first after the clinic opens after lunch. You may also consider a cats-only clinic or a hospital that has separate dog and cat waiting rooms.
If you feel you can't handle taking your cat in at all, ask your veterinarian about house calls or consider a veterinarian whose practice is mobile. If you use a house-call service, confine your cat to a small area before the veterinarian arrives -- dragging your pet out from under a dresser is a lousy way to start an exam.
CYBERLINKS -- Cindy Tittle Moore is the wonder of pet cyberspace, the woman behind a library of FAQs (netspeak for Frequently Asked Questions) that'll keep any cat- or dog-lover up-to-date on behavior and health issues. Her rec.pet.cats FAQ homepage (http://www.zmall.com/pet(underline)talk/cat-faqs/homepage.html) offers links to documents on infectious diseases, behavior problem and even genetics. You can also explore e-mail lists and newsgroups from there, or jump to the dog areas. When it comes to cats, though, nothing beats the Cat Fanciers site (www.fanciers.com) with information on cat breeds, rescue and shelter groups, health and behavior, showing and referrals to breeders.
Gina Spadafori, the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," is affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
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