Helping cats become well-adjusted, tolerant “Christopher Columbus” cats won’t happen overnight. Begin now, during kittenhood for the best result. You can use these tips with your adult cats, too. If the cat’s fear aggression is mild and you can avoid the triggers that make your kitty aggress, no other treatment may be necessary. These tips can help diffuse the fear, and you can use these at home. So can your vet, in the clinic itself.
Foiling Fear Before The Vet Visit
The prime socialization period for kittens is two-to-seven weeks of age. When you first adopt your kitten, expose youngsters to happy, positive experiences with a variety of strangers, locations and other pets. That helps them learn that other people, places, and critters can be fun and not scary. For example, take your kitten to visit and be handled by the staff at the veterinary clinic so their only experience isn’t a scary needle stick.
Determine Distance Issues
For shy or aggressive cats, figure out tolerance levels and reactive distance. For instance, kittens may be fine as long as the ‘scary person/animal’ stays six feet away, but reacts with fear at five feet. Avoid situations by maintaining an appropriate distance between the fearful cat and potential triggers. In the vet clinic situation, that can mean moving holding cages further apart, for example, to keep strange animals a safer distance away.
Give Them Privacy
Increase the numbers of quiet areas and hiding spots. Elevated perches such as shelf space and small boxes or even cat carriers to hide in make cats feel more secure. At home, that can include adding cat trees, clearing book shelves for perches or offering cat tunnels or empty paper bags for playtime or hiding fun. At the clinic, cats feel happier and more confident when housed in elevated cages than on lower levels.
To a little kitten, humans look imposing especially when we stare, follow, and try to pet them. Just think of that giant-size hand coming down toward your head! Instead, sit on the floor, and ignore the cat—no eye contact which can be intimidating—and lure the kitten or cat with treats or a toy. Let the cat approach and control the interaction.
At home, create a house of plenty by providing lots of toys, scratching posts, and litter boxes (at least one per cat, plus one) to reduce competition with other cats. Offer kitty viewing fun by setting up bird baths and squirrel feeders outside windows.
Visual contact heightens cat arousal and can increase aggressive episodes or make them worse. So separate cats with solid doors to calm the angst. In the clinic situation, keeping cats out of eye contact with each other (or *spit!* strange dogs) helps lower stress. Cover cage doors with towels to hide upsetting views.
Give Them Calming Scent
Use of cat pheromone products both at home and in clinic situations ease stress in the cat’s territory and/or relationships.
Provide Soothing Sounds
Music therapy works incredibly well to calm kitty stress. New age sounds, classical music, and tempos that mimic a resting heartbeat speed help enormously. Harp music is a natural sedative for which you need no prescription. Some music today has been designed specifically with cats in mind.
Offer Natural Help
Rescue Remedy or similar products can help shy and fearful pets. We’re not sure how these vibrational therapies really work. Some professionals suspect the placebo effect influences how well they work but—if it reduces kitty stress, I’m all for placebo effect!
Use Play Therapy
Interactive play builds feline confidence. I like fishing pole style toys the cat gets to chase and catch. A favorite game or toy can be a familiar comfort, and normalize the clinic visit, even when in the hands of the veterinary nurse during the visit.
When cats engage in fun games, their brains can’t be happy and scared at the same time. A long distance interactive toy like fishing-pole lures teach cats you are fun to be around, but without having to get too close. You can even sit on top of the bed, and “tease” the cat that hides underneath without scaring the kitty by reaching under to grab him.
If your cat loves food, offer smelly treats to diffuse the angst. Have vet staff drop or toss treats when they arrive at the exam room door, so their entry signals “food” instead of “stranger danger.”
Training cats to do tricks builds confidence and helps improve the bond you share. You can use clicker training to communicate with your cat, and associate positive things (treats, toys, attention) with otherwise angst-causing situations like vet visits, car rides or crate training.