Q We have a shelter cat named Chechee, now 7, who is very skittish and frightened every moment of the day. It is impossible to cuddle with her, and we can barely pet her because she runs away and hides. We would like to have her examined by a veterinarian, but we can't pick her up, let alone put her in a carrier. All of her needs (food, clean litter box) are met. We are at our wit's end. She has bitten my wife once when we attempted to pick her up. She is not angry, just skittish, and we can't figure out how to solve this issue.
— Herb, Wellington, Florida
A While cats outnumber dogs in the United States, cats often don't visit the veterinarian as often as canines do. It's not because cat owners don't care, but because even the sweetest and mildest cat can become a bit difficult when it comes time to go to the vet's office.
To reduce Chechee's overall skittishness and build her confidence in the home (it's never too late), put feline pheromone plug-ins around the house and give her lots of places to hide, like boxes or baskets, or a place to climb, like a tall cat tree.
As for getting Chechee (or any challenging cat) to the veterinarian, here are a few things you can try:
First, get a bigger carrier. Cats have a way of making themselves bigger when they are scared, and trying to push them into small carriers is a nightmare for both the pet and owner. This is the moment when most people are bitten and scratched. Buy a medium-sized carrier and put a blanket or towel inside to make it cozy. (Top-open carriers are sometimes easier for cats that can be held, but don't want to go into a side-entry box.)
Second, leave the carrier in the house so the cat can go in and out as she pleases. Most people put the carrier in the garage and bring it out only when it's time to go to the vet. Cats are smart; they know the carrier means a trip to the vet. Give the carrier new meaning by feeding her in it, leaving treats in it and spraying some pheromones in it.
I know Chechee won't let you pick her up, but the next bit of advice would be to wrap her in a towel before putting her in the carrier. Cats feel safer like this, and it's much better for you if her claws and paws are under wraps.
If these things don't work, talk to your veterinarian about medicating her. You won't be able to give her anything orally, but maybe the veterinarian can prescribe some medicine that can be crushed and put into her food.
Finally, if all else fails, consider renting or buying a humane animal trap often used for feral cats. (They are fairly inexpensive to buy online.) Skip feeding her the night before the vet visit so she's hungry. Drape the top of the trap with a towel, put the food inside, and leave the door open. During the night, she will go into the trap to eat and the door will close on her. Keep the towel on the trap and drive her to the vet first thing in the morning. The vet can medicate her through the trap and then examine her and vaccinate her while she is sedated.
Q In regard to Judi from Oakland Park, Florida, who has dogs that sometimes pee in the house, I once had a Lab named Belle who would always go on the grass, but if I couldn't clean it up immediately, she would walk the perimeter of the yard almost on tiptoes to avoid any soiled areas. When the areas were totally clean, there was never a problem.
— Pat, Wading River
A Certainly, if people don't clean up their dog's waste in the yard, their dog may look elsewhere to relieve themselves. Your Belle sounds like a very particular dog, and I am glad you were astute enough to manage her fastidious behavior. In most cases, though, when a house-trained dog starts going in the house, it's because they need to be retrained and incentivized to go outside. But it's always wise to keep the yard free of waste.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her: @cathymrosenthal.