When your cat becomes sick, it can be scary and unsettling for both you and your cat.
Your behavior greatly influences your cat’s behavior and sense of security. Your nursing skills play a major role in the success of the treatments that your veterinarian has prescribed to help your cat recover from illness or injury.
We’ve compiled some tips from AAFP veterinarians to help you as you nurse your cat back to health.
Your Role in Preparing for the Veterinary Visit
- If your cat is stressed when you take her to the veterinary practice, ask your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medication that you can administer before the visit and for tips on how to acclimate your cat to the carrier.
- Withhold food from your cat for several hours before the appointment to avoid motion sickness.
- Take your cat’s favorite treats with you so that you or a veterinary team member can give them as a reward or distraction.
- Consider using a synthetic feline facial pheromone spray, like Feliway®, in the carrier and car at least 30 minutes prior to help calm your cat.
- Place a favorite toy and familiar smelling clothing or bedding in the carrier as well.
Your Role at the Veterinary Practice
Cats can sense your stress, anxiety, and apprehension, all of which can increase their own stress. Here are some tips to help create a more positive veterinary visit for your cat and you:
- If your cat is anxious in the waiting area, or if dogs are present, ask the receptionist if you can go immediately into an exam room. Alternatively, cover your cat’s cage with a towel or your coat to block the view and muffle the sounds.
- Once you are in the exam room with your cat, talk to her soothingly in a low pitched voice.
- Avoid behaviors that while intended to comfort your cat, may actually increase her anxiety. These can include clutching your cat, talking or staring in her face, and disturbing or invading her personal space. Human sounds intended to soothe or quiet (like ‘shhhh’) may mimic another cat hissing and should be avoided.
- Physical correction such as tapping your cat’s head and verbal reprimands should also be avoided because they may startle your cat and provoke her natural fight-or flight response. Remember, cats are not human and react differently to discipline.
- Do not handle or remove your cat from her carrier until requested by a member of the veterinary team.
- Reinforce your cat’s positive behavior with petting or treats and ignore negative behavior rather than trying to correct her.
- If your cat must stay in the hospital, bring along familiar toys and bedding from home. Provide the name of the cat litter and food your cat eats at home. Also mention anything that your cat enjoys (e.g., treats, brushing, or play-time activities). The veterinary staff can use this information to help make your cat’s stay more pleasant.
The Role of the Veterinary Practice
- To offer suggestions about treatment options that best match your cat’s personality and your ability to administer medicine/treatment.
- To educate you on how to administer medications and demonstrate techniques if needed.
- To communicate with you about treatment, follow-up, and behavior signs of well-being that signal recovery.
- Cats that feel good tend to sleep most often in a curled position.
- They groom themselves, follow a normal routine, interact with their owner, and eat and eliminate regularly.
Your Role in Nursing Care for Your Cat
The following nursing care tips will help you become an extension of the veterinary team after your cat returns home. Ask your veterinary practice to provide as much information as possible in writing, as well as references to online resources, such as videos. Do not be reluctant to approach the veterinary team if you have any questions during or after the visit.
Nursing care tips:
- Identify a quiet, familiar, and private space in your home, such as a small enclosure or alcove with good lighting where your cat can rest and recover. This space needs to be easily accessible for you, so you can tend to your cat’s needs. A small space allows for close monitoring of your cat and provides her with a sense of security.
- Establish a routine for administering oral medication to your cat. A bathroom sink lined with a soft towel or fleece provides an enclosed, secure place for administering medication.
- Give your cat positive reinforcement (e.g., treats, brushing, petting) for accepting medication.
- Unless your veterinarian says that medication must be administered with food, do not use food as an aid for giving medications, as it may cause aversion and reduce your cat’s food intake.
- Flat food dishes, such as small paper plates, and shallow water bowls may improve intake by making food and water more accessible.
- It can be helpful if you warm the canned food to your cat’s body temperature by gently heating in the microwave or adding warm water and stirring well. Additions of chicken broth or tuna juice may enhance taste.
- Food should always be fresh, provided in small portions, and replenished as needed.
- Forcing your cat to take medication is stressful for both you and your cat.
- Do not forcibly remove your cat from a hiding place or interrupt eating, grooming, or elimination for purposes of administering medication.
- Ask your veterinarian for a demonstration of how to administer the medication prescribed for your cat.
- Stay calm. Cats can sense our anxiety or frustrations, which may cause them to become fearful or anxious.
- Attend all follow-up appointments with your veterinary practice.
- Alert your veterinary practice if you observe any signs of sickness or changes in your cat’s behavior, as well as any changes in food or fluid intake, or if you experience difficulty administering medications.
Providing nursing care at home for your cat may seem overwhelming at first, but be patient and remember that even small improvements will contribute to your cat’s recovery. Remember that your veterinarian is there to help, so always ask any questions you have so that you can successfully provide nursing care for your cat.