How I Overcame My Fear of the Veterinarian for National Take Your Cat to the Vet Day

I adore my cats and would go to the ends of the earth and back for them. That said, I have a confession. Despite knowing how important it is to bring a cat to the veterinarian for routine check-ups, there was a time I stopped bringing mine altogether. It’s not that I didn’t want to bring them, it’s that I literally wasn’t capable due to extreme mental anxieties that were crippling me with fear. With today being National Take Your Cat to the Vet Day, I felt the need to share my personal story and how I overcame my anxieties so I could once again bring my cats to the vet on a regular basis.

I’ve had pets as long as I can remember and going to the vet was ingrained into my lifestyle. When I moved from Upstate New York to Florida in 1994, I moved with a dog, 5 cats, and a guinea pig in tow. My then husband and I were very lucky – we found a veterinarian close to our new home who we bonded with right away. Our family of pets expanded and he saw us through basic exams to a very difficult time when one of my dogs – my precious Golden Retriever, Bailey, succumbed to cancer at only 2-years of age. He was a regular visitor at our house, never charging us for his above and beyond care, and I felt blessed to have him in my life.

My sweet Bailey in 1998 – happier days before I got the news she had cancer. Playing with her toys was one of her favorite activities and she was never without one by her side!

With time comes change, and unfortunately he had to leave his practice and moved quite far from us. I stayed on and began to build a relationship with the veterinarian who took over his position. Eventually the practice was bought out by a larger corporation, the business relocated twice (but still in the same town as me), and the staff started to become a revolving door of people coming and going. My life eventually dwindled to a cat only house and I did my best to maintain a relationship with whichever vet was on duty, and while I can’t say anyone was unprofessional or uncaring toward me or my cats, it just wasn’t like it used to be.

In 2013 my trips to the vet increased, as my cat Jazz, now 15, was rapidly declining in health and it seemed I was there nearly every day getting him checked out for one aliment or another. When the time came and all solutions to prolong his life had been exhausted, I made the painful decision with my fiancé, Dan, to help Jazz cross to the Rainbow Bridge and we brought him to the vet’s office to have the euthanasia done.

Jazz in his final months of life as his health began to decline. He was always such a beautiful and gentle boy…

I was numb from pain for months after he was gone, but his death was not a surprise. I got to say goodbye to him and his last moments with me at home before we went to the vet were poignant and beautiful. Even the process at the vet was beautiful. The room was dark expect for the serene glow of a single lit candle and the veterinarian on hand was kind and gentle, giving us privacy and respect as we said our final goodbyes.

I still continued to take my other cats to the vet for routine checkups, as well as for visits if something seemed wrong. One of those visits was with Harley in 2014, as she had begun to develop respiratory problems. She was given medication and I was directed to use a humidifier to help clear her congestion. A couple weeks went by and her situation did not appear to be improving, so I brought her back to the vet. She was dehydrated and given a shot for fluids, but at no time was I given any indication she might be in imminent danger. I brought her home and took her into my office to let her out of her carrier so she would have some peace away from the prying eyes of my other cats.

I came back a few minutes later to check on her and I found her on the floor where I had left her, in the throes of an extreme seizure. Dan called the vet who told us to come in immediately and he and I brought Harley together. After that, everything became a hazy blur – it was all so painful and surreal that I’ve blocked most of the memory from my mind. All I know is that I was holding her for one last time, telling her I loved her, and that I had to let her go. I remember screaming in pain. I remember crying hysterically, and that was it. She was gone. No warning. No nothing. I am still incapable of processing the grief I feel and I remain in a fog of denial she is gone.

My beautiful, beautiful Harley. How I miss you my precious girl…

I felt disconnected, angry, guilty, bitter, and every toxic emotion you could think of ruled my mind and my brain reacted in a violent fashion and completely shut down. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to recover – due to the location of my job, I had to drive past the vet’s twice a day, and when I had to take any of the other cats in for random visits, I would break down in tears, reliving the memory of holding Harley for one last time. I simply couldn’t take it anymore and it was a defense mechanism with me – if I don’t take my cats to the vet, then nothing bad could happen to them.

I’m a rationale person. I knew I couldn’t live in a state of denial forever. Cats are masters at disguising illnesses and that’s one of the reasons it’s so important they receive routine check-ups. I had noticed my sweet Mia seemed to be acting out of character and that was the trigger I needed. I couldn’t put her health at risk because I was emotionally unstable. I made the decision I had to find the strength to get past my fear, and the first step to recovery was a fresh start. In order to do that, I felt the need to find a new veterinarian, and I had a check-list of “must-have” requirements.

First and foremost, I wanted someone who wasn’t part of a big corporation. I wanted someone who would be my sole veterinarian, not just whoever was on staff that day. Building a bridge of trust was integral to my healing and I needed stability. Location was also important. My cats become quite distressed traveling in the car, so I wanted a place close by. I also wanted a place where I felt personally comfortable. No disrespect intended, but unfortunately, the practice where I was currently at was becoming more and more beholden to preaching the virtues of processed cat food I didn’t believe in and recommending additional services or procedures my cats didn’t need.

I began by Googling all the vets in my area and took notes on office hours (weekend hours are very important to me) as well as where they were located and made a game plan with Dan to go visit each location in person to get a better feel for the place and to ask questions. We found a couple places we liked, and some were immediately crossed off the list. For example, if the stench of the facility can knock an army over, it’s a deal breaker. Our favorite place turned out to be closest to us and we were over-joyed. It was clean, the staff was warm, knowledgeable, and friendly, and I loved the layout of the waiting room.

Starting up my computer (with a little help from Mia) to begin the research process…

But I’ve learned over the years not to take anything at face value and step-two was the follow-up research. Studying websites and literature, visiting social media pages, and reading reviews. This made my ultimate decision a no-brainer. The place I loved was not as it appeared – one of its commonly practiced procedures with cats was declawing, and that’s a red-flag for me right away. There were also more bad reviews than good – across several social sites – so I decided it wasn’t worth the risk.

I scheduled an appointment for Mia, and with renewed confidence, I began preparing for the exam. I brought her cat carrier out of storage several days prior to the appointment so she would become accustomed to it and not run off in fear the day of her exam. On appointment day, I left work early so I had time to interact with her in a calm manner before I picked her up and put her in the carrier. Cats can sense our own stress and react from it, so I wanted her to know she was safe and loved and that it wasn’t a big deal.

Mia and her siblings sniffing the Sleepypod cat carrier. The more cats are accustomed to the carrier in a positive manner, the less fear they will have of it when you need to take them to the vet.

When I got to the vet’s office, I wasn’t kept waiting long and I instantly connected with both the veterinary technician and the vet. Mia was examined, blood work was taken with the potential possibility of a urinary infection, and we went on our way. When I got home, I gave treats to all the cats so they didn’t associate Mia’s “new” odor with something bad and over the course of the next couple months, Dan and I brought two cats at a time for routine check-ups. I wanted to take my time with the process, both to ease my accelerated spending budget, and so I wasn’t bombarding the cats all at once with stressful situations. By the third visit, I was getting along so well with the vet,  she gave me a hug goodbye after the exam!

I can’t say it still isn’t a stressful experience – it is. I never enjoy rounding up any of them to put them in the car and I’m always slightly on edge during the exam. But preventative care with cats is so important. Especially in my household where my cats are getting older. Zee is nearing 12 years old, officially a senior cat, and because cats age much more rapidly than humans, they need to be seen with even more frequency.

Zee is so at home in the Sleepypod carrier that it’s never difficult to scoop him up to bring him to the vet!

Taking them two at a time was a great way to lessen the stress as well. They seemed to like the familiarity of having another cat with them during the exam. As a matter of fact, when it was Kizmet and Jazmine’s turn to go, Kizmet wouldn’t leave Jazmine’s side while she was being examined. She was quite stressed by the ordeal, but him, he was completely nonplussed, even flopping over to expose his belly and flirting with the pretty technician!

Kizmet is telling the vet technician how much he loves her and that the exam isn’t bothering him in the least.

I tried to keep Jazmine calm during Kizmet’s exam and was grateful she had the comfort of her carrier to offer her a safe cocoon.

When Kizmet’s exam was over, we put Jazmine on the table to wait for hers. Kizmet stuck by her side the entire time.

Even where Jazmine was being examined, Kizmet kept watch to ensure her safety. He was watching the comings and goings at the door in this picture.

Thankfully my cats seem to be doing well. Mia ended up being okay. We found out Peanut had a minor urinary infection that required an antibiotic and both she and Rolz had an ear infection that required drops. Zoey is allergic to fleas, something I am doing my best to manage and I also need to start brushing their teeth, which should be quite an interesting ordeal…

After we got home from Jazmine and Kizmet’s visit, Jazmine hid in my office. Kizmet brought her a stuffed toy heart and stayed by her side until she calmed down.

And all is good…this was Jazmine about a half hour after her return home from the vet.

All I know is that I love my cats and it’s my responsibility to do everything I can to ensure they live a happy and healthy life. I’m moving toward an emotional recovery and taking them regularly to the vet is a vital part of that journey.

Kizmet is the poster kitty for showing just how important it is to take your cat to the vet on a regular basis.

hearts

During the month of August, post a picture of your cat or tips for taking your cat to the veterinarian on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter using #Cat2VetDay, and Royal Canin pet food will donate up to $20,000 to Frankie’s Friends. Frankie’s Friends is from Tampa, Florida, and provides grants to help with the cost of life-saving or life-enhancing emergency or specialty care for pets whose families cannot afford the full cost of treatment.

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  1. I feel your pain — and am so glad you found a vet you can trust. It make such a difference! Love and purrs to everyone.
    —Purrs (and wags) from Life with Dogs and Cats

  2. Thank you for sharing your story, Deb. For me, I was freaking out every time something was wrong with Carmine or Lita because I was afraid they’d get diagnosed with some terminal illness like Jewel. Thankfully, that fear has diminished over time. I’m glad that you faced your anxieties. Our babies help us do so much, face so much, and overcome so much. *hugs*

  3. Roby Sweet says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. When I was growing up, we only took our cats to the vet when there was something wrong with them. When I was 19, already emotionally wrung out from my parents’ very messy divorce, my beloved cat Dodger suddenly became ill, went to the vet & never came home. After that, I was terrified of taking a cat to the vet. It took me years to get over this. Then I was fortunate to meet some really great vets who comforted me when I was an emotional wreck over a cat who had bladder stones & needed surgery, and that was the start of my healing.

  4. Oh Deb….how hard and hopefully therapeutic for you to share.
    Thank you. Sending a big ol Bama hug!! xoxo

  5. What a moving post. Thank you for sharing it with us.
    XOXO

  6. Deb I soo understand and I appreciate your honesty. Thankfully we are blessed with a fabulous Vet practice that we go to, there ARE multiple doctors there, but 99.9% of the time my boys see the same Vet every single time. We only see others there when there is (God forbid) an emergency and “Dr.Smiley” isn’t in. That being said, it was that practice where Bobo was first diagnosed with heart disease. (They have since remodeled)…but…….the exam room where I was told that Bobo could have hours, days, weeks or months (he ended up living 2 years after his initial diagnosis), looks the same as it did that devastatingly heartbreaking day. For a long time I would be overcome with grief when I would have to be in that room. Also, Bobo was helped across the bridge at home…….when my Vet carried him out, I watched him walk to his vehicle (which he STILL HAS). Whenever I go to the Vet and see his vehicle……..the same feelings overcome me and that was 10 years ago. Regardless of jitters when I take either of my boys to the Vet, preventative care and as you said “not reactive care” is the way to go if at all possible. Great post!!

  7. Forty Paws says:

    We are so glad that you were able to find a vet to work with and that you feel comfortable taking your babies to for care. That is so important. Since we have 8 here, we understand your feelings as we have several on various medications and frequently go to our vet. We just found out one of ours has histoplasmosis and the cat hasn’t been outside in over 2 years! And Maw totally understands your anxiety. Maw has had a great deal of anxiety this year and is majorly stressed on a daily basis…

    Hugs from all of us at Forty Paws.

  8. Deb, I cannot imagine how heart-breaking it was for you to lose Harley that way. I too am severely anti-declaw, but here in Michigan, it’s a rampant procedure. I have neglected to take Angel to any vet, because her brother Chuck has a bad heart and he takes up all of my ‘take-a-cat-to-the-vet’ energy. However, the time is coming and she needs thorough check-up. I’ve fired our old vet; the attitude was bad there and The Hubby complained about them for years before I’d gotten fed up. Hadn’t thought about visiting vet offices BEFORE making appointments; that’s a great idea!

  9. jmuhj says:

    I’ve had many of the feelings you’ve had in regards to the whole veterinarian experience, and I’m glad you’ve found one whom you trust truly cares about your family!

  10. It can be awful….there really does need to be that human connection for mom too. She is currently switching us to a new place…her favorite tech moved there and she really likes the vet lady.

  11. Maggie says:

    I’m glad you were able to overcome the horrible experience with your vet. We are confident and comfortable in the care of our vet at a cat-only practice. Even though we – as I know you are – are observant and attentive to our cats, we don’t always register every change that happens over time. The yearly vet visit is so important as the cats get older. Let us know about the tooth brushing- that’s something the vet suggested and I’ve been avoiding!

  12. Thanks for sharing your experience, Deb. Finding a veterinarian that you are comfortable with and can trust is so very important and not easy to do. With all my cats’ latest health issues, I feel I’ve been spending way too much time with veterinarians lately. ~Island Cat Mom

  13. Glogirly says:

    Oh, Deb… thank you for sharing your story. I can only imagine how hard it was to write, let alone experience. Finding the right vet is like finding someone you feel so good about you want them to be part of your family. I’ve been very lucky with Katie and Waffles. I really loved their first vet, but when Katie started having some chronic kidney and GI issues, I started looking into diet alternatives to what most vets’ shelves are stocked with. That led me to a wonderful holistic vet a little over a year ago. Then we moved. So I started doing what you did and an angel and mutual friend, Ingrid, sent me a note out of the blue introducing me to one of her all time favorite vets who had relocated to my area and just opened her own clinic last month. She hasn’t even met my cats yet, but knows all about them and has been so generous with her time already. I can already tell she’s the one. We’re not due for visits yet, but the peace of mind I have knowing I’ve got someone wonderful close by is priceless.
    Purrs and hugs to you, my friend.

  14. Ellen Pilch says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am so sorry of the trauma you went through, I can see why you were so grief stricken. I still bring my cats to the vets, but I am afraid to go to TUFTS for emergencies after losing my KaChoo traumatically in 2010. I am not sure what I would do in an emergency when the regular vet is closed.

  15. Connie says:

    what a thoughtful way to find a new vet. I am glad you found one you feel comfortable with.

  16. Cathy Keisha says:

    Whoa! It must have been hard to relive all that. We had kind of similar experiences. After the butcher at the vet I was going to put me in respiratory distress, TW decided I was never going there again. She visited several vet in the area but none of them spoke English to her liking. She didn’t want any misunderstandings. Finally after the spring I started coughing, they decided to take me to the vet Faith was taken to even though it was over a half hour away and they don’t have a car and have to take an expensive cab ride. TW hates the stress going to the vet puts on her cats. She’s found that the cats she’s had who never went to the vet outlived the ones who did. Aunt Pauline has had the same experiences. anyhoo, we are very satisfied with Dr. D.

  17. Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s so important to find a vet with whom you are comfortable, and whom you can trust. We are thankful for having such a vet 10 minutes far from our home. Purrs

  18. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I went through a similar experience when Sweet Praline was dying of cancer. I’d taken her to the vet several times and they kept telling me she was okay, but she wasn’t. She had that tumor growing inside and it was killing her.

    I do take the girls to the vet on a regular basis, but I still get a knot in the pit of my stomach every time one of them goes to the vet. I guess I’m always waiting for the shoe to drop.

  19. meowmeowmans says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Deb. It’s powerful and important, and we are so glad you were able to step through that traumatic and tragic experience to the place you are now. Thanks again, and hugs to you!