Many cat owners have been exactly where you are, and we all feel the same guilt when we have to take our babies to the vet. They are sick, scared, confused, and, well…they don’t speak our language! Then, they are introduced to strangers in a strange environment.
But don’t worry. There are ways for you to help your cat adjust and cope, which will prepare them for the inevitable next vet visit.
The best way to calm a traumatized cat is to give her ample space, food, water, and lots of tolerance while remaining calm and positive yourself. This will help your cat walk out of discomfort sooner.
The following article will give you some tips and tricks about how you can read your cat’s body language and help them through this traumatic experience. Read on to find out how to help your pet.
The most important thing you can do once you get your cat back home from a vet visit is to let your cat tell you what he or she needs in order to feel safe again.
#1 Let her hide and feel safe again
One of the most common responses a cat may exhibit after a scary vet visit is hiding. Your cat may dart out of the pet carrier once you open it and run straight to its favorite hiding spot.
Hiding helps your cat reduce stressful stimuli to come back out of fight or flight mode. It would be best if you let your cat do this without interfering.
Any interference could be seen as a potentially harmful pursuit, and it may cause your cat to stay hidden for longer or to seek an even less accessible hiding spot.
So, if your cat chooses to hide, the first thing you can do to comfort them is to let them hide.
Once your cat feels comfortable again (usually within a day or two), you will see them emerge from their hiding spot to seek your comfort again.
If you get nervous about how long your cat has been hiding, you can leave some food and water close to their hiding spot.
Remember: do not try to remove them from their hiding spot as they may perceive this as a threat.
#2 Ample food and water near their territory
If you have multiple pets, you may want to consider letting your cat out of the carrier in a closed environment with all of their necessities nearby (food, water, litter box) so that they can calm down without the interference of other pets.
Doing this can also help you monitor how much food and water your pet consumes, which is helpful because trauma can cause a loss of appetite.
#3 Be a positive role model yourself
Another important thing you can do for your pet before, during, and after a vet visit is to remain calm and have a positive outlook on the situation.
Your pets know you better than anyone, and they can read your physical cues to determine your state of emotion.
If your cat has a strong bond with you and sees that you are stressed out and scared, your cat will believe there are things to be stressed out and scared about. This can be applied once you get home as well.
Don’t worry that things will never return to normal or that your cat will hate you. These are usual fears for you to experience, but reacting this way won’t help comfort you or your cat.
The best thing you can do to comfort your cat after a vet visit is to remain calm and assume the best outcome.
#4 Extra tolerance
The final technique you can use to comfort your pet after a vet visit is not to take their behavior too personally.
Sometimes, rather than hiding, your cat may get home from a vet visit and show signs of aggression towards you like hissing, swatting, crouching, dilated pupils, a lowered tail, or lowered ears.
This is another signal that your pet is traumatized and acting in fight or flight mode. More than likely, they are simply trying to get some distance from external stimuli (including you).
It may also mean that you are coming on too strong or trying too hard to comfort your cat when they aren’t ready for physical touch yet.
Again, let your cats tell you what they need and when they need it.
We reviewed a few behaviors that a cat may exhibit after a vet visit, including hiding and minor signs of aggression.
Typically, these behaviors will subside within a day or two, and things should be back to normal. Now, let’s discuss some more severe trauma symptoms your pet may exhibit and how to go about helping them heal.
Hiding and insecurity
Hiding and small acts of aggression or discomfort are perfectly normal after a vet visit. You might even find them falling asleep in hidden places while covering their faces.
Your pet doesn’t hate you; he or she simply needs time to calm the fight or flight instinct and readjust back into the home.
Remember, the vet visit introduced a litany of new sensations and smells, so your cat now needs time to reacclimate to your household environment.
These behaviors do indicate trauma, but it is nothing to be alarmed about. Your alarm and stress will almost certainly increase those feelings in your cat, and most of the time, these behaviors will level out, and things will be back to normal within a day or two.
If your cat has a prolonged loss of appetite (more than a day or two), this is slightly more concerning as it indicates that the trauma may have been worse than you initially assumed.
There are ways to help your cat cope with this trauma response as well. For example, trying to use your cats’ special favorite treats instead of their everyday food might be helpful.
If this doesn’t work, try buying some soft treats with a strong smell or even a can of tuna. The strong scent will help entice your cat to eat, which will help soothe all of their other symptoms of stress.
Some of the more concerning but also normal signs of trauma-induced stress are physical shaking and involuntary urination or defecation.
Don’t worry if your cat is stressed out and exhibiting all these symptoms. These signs could be normal since you know she is stressed now; it indicates that you must take every possible action to comfort your cat while respecting their boundaries.
This means giving them a closed, dark, quiet environment free from other pets and people and providing them with comfortable hiding spots, food, water, and a litterbox.
Be sure not to yell or react strongly to signs of aggression or involuntary urination/defecation. Again, these symptoms of stress are all involuntary; your pet is just trying to feel safe again.
You can also try speaking softly and reassuringly to your cat without touching it or attempting to remove it from its hiding spot to let it know that it is safe now.
If you’ve ever owned cats, you know this fear is real because of their unbelievable ability to hold grudges. Many cats will be furious with you when they return home from a visit, but it’s essential to remember that this is not forever.
You may get upset with them and think, “Don’t they know I did this for their own good?” The answer is no; of course, they don’t know that.
To them, their sense of safety and trust was betrayed, and they see no good reason why this should have happened. Your cat may be questioning whether you really still love them.
So, the answer to this question is: your cat may indeed seem to hate you after a vet visit, but, trust me, you can win them back by following the tips listed in the article above.
By remaining calm and slowly restoring their sense of safety with repetitive yet gentle action, your cat will begin to trust you again and (mostly) forgive you.
However, if your cat is food motivated, it couldn’t hurt to give them some extra special treats or special meals to make up for all the stress they have just endured.
Another thing you can do to facilitate forgiveness on your cat’s part is to talk to them. Your cats may not understand the language, but they absolutely understand the tone of voice.
If you speak to them and sound genuinely concerned and apologetic, they will sense your tone and body language and come to believe that you love them and that they can trust you again.
I would suggest doing this repeatedly throughout the day, especially when visiting them to check their food and water supply.
How long will it take my cat to recover from the trauma?
There is no one answer that fits all for this question; every cat is different. Generally speaking, the recovery process should only take a day or two.
Depending on how invasive the vet visit was or how long the visit was, your cat may need significantly more time to recover, even up to a week or longer.
It is important not to rush the process and let your cat dictate the speed at which they feel comfortable resuming daily life as usual. Another crucial element of this process is your own emotional responses.
You may find yourself getting frustrated, sad, or angry with your pet; after all, you were just doing what was in your pet’s best interest.
It’s important not to take these emotions out on your cat as that will exacerbate their trauma response and prolong the recovery.