Whether you want to take your cat to the vet, travel with your cat, or be prepared in case of an emergency, a carrier is essential. What should you look for in a carrier and how do you train your cat to like it? Read on for the answers.
When looking for a carrier, you should consider six features: size, safety, entrance and exit options, ventilation, and privacy.
Cats feel safest and most secure in small spaces. Therefore, your cat’s carrier should be small yet still big enough for your cat to turn around and even to stretch, but the carrier shouldn’t be so big that your
Carriers can be made from either fabric or plastic. Fabric is more comfortable, lighter, and easier to store, while plastic is sturdier, more secure, and easier to clean.
People who travel often or who struggle to lift heavy objects might consider a rolling carrier. When traveling by car, The Center for Pet Safety recommends that carriers should be placed on the floor of the backseat. If the carrier has been crash-tested, it can be belted into the backseat.
The ideal carrier will have both a top and front opening and a removable top half. The top and front openings will give you options for loading and unloading your cat easily. A removable top will allow your cat to remain in its carrier during a vet exam, where many cats will feel more secure and less anxious.
Although carriers should have good ventilation, cats also need privacy. If a cat needs more privacy to feel safe, drape a towel over the carrier.
Now that you know the right type of carrier to look for, let’s look at how to train your cat to like its carrier.
Keep in mind how slowly or quickly you move from step to step will depend on your cat. If your cat’s ears, tail, and posture are relaxed, then you should be safe to proceed to the next step. You should never need to force your cat to take the next step. If your cat is uncomfortable with something, revert to the last thing it was comfortable with. Each step might take a day, a week, or even a month.
- Place your cat’s carrier in a visible area frequented by your cat and leave it there. If the only time your cat ever goes into the carrier is for a vet visit, it’ll likely hate the carrier.
- Make the carrier comfortable by adding your cat’s favorite bedding and unwashed clothes of yours.
- Lure your cat towards the carrier by using a trail of treats or toys.
- Place treats just inside the carrier.
- Place treats deep inside the carrier.
- Touch the carrier door when your cat is inside, drop a treat, and walk away.
- Move the door when your cat is inside, drop a treat, and walk away.
- Close the door when your cat is inside, drop a treat, and then reopen the door.
- Lift the carrier when your cat is inside with the door closed, drop a treat, and then place the carrier on the floor and reopen the door.
- Carry the carrier with your cat inside to different areas of your house.
- Bring the carrier with your cat inside to your car and sit in the car with your cat.
- Drive around the block with your cat inside the carrier in your car.
- After you have acclimated your cat to the carrier, continue to take your cat on short drives on an irregular basis.
What if you leave the carrier in a visible area for a few days but your cat still avoids it? Make the carrier less scary. Ways to do this include: staying out of the room while your cat explores the carrier, spraying the carrier with pheromones, temporarily removing the door and/or the top from the carrier, using a cardboard box as a short-term substitute, or purchasing a new and different carrier. For our feral cat, we bought a dog crate so that she’d feel less confined.
What if your cat acts interested in the carrier but won’t actually go inside? Work harder to entice your cat to explore the carrier. Place some of your cat’s bedding and some of your unwashed clothes not just in the carrier but also outside the carrier. Throw treats and/or toys near the carrier. Play with your near the carrier. You might even put a scratching post near the carrier.
What if your cat will go inside the carrier but flees if you approach? Slow down the process. If your cat went into the carrier to eat, let him eat by himself the first few times. After that, stay in the room but at a distance. Once your cat is comfortable with you in the room, start sitting closer and closer to the carrier, until you’re within an arm’s length. At this point, touch the carrier door when your cat is inside, drop a treat, and praise your cat. Once your cat is comfortable with you touching the carrier door, move the door when your cat is inside so that it is a quarter closed and then reopen, next time half, then three quarters, and then closed.
What if your cat allows you to close the door but meows plaintively if you lift the carrier? Troubleshoot the process. Evaluate the rewards that you’re giving your cat. Use only the best treats or toys. Evaluate how safe you’re making your cat feel. Until your cat is truly comfortable being in the carrier, never close the door for more than a few seconds. Evaluate the pace at which you’re going through these steps and remember to keep taking it slow. The first time you lift the carrier off the ground, lift it only only a couple of inches. Then put carrier back down, immediately open the door, and heap rewards on your cat. Proceed in small increments
What if you successfully get your cat to the car but aren’t able to repeat the process? You may need to adjust how you handle car rides. Ways to do this include: spraying your car with pheromones, playing soft music or talk radio during the car ride, going for short rides, making sure the destination is one that your cat enjoys, and talking to your vet about medication for motion sickness or anxiety. Each cat will differ in how accepting they will be of outings. If car rides upset your cat, keep them short and try to end on a happy note. When I bring my former feral home from the vet, I put her carrier on our deck so that she can have time in the sun. For us, it’s making the best of an unpleasant situation.
The first video is from a client. Her cat used to hate the sight of its carrier. Per my advice, my client replaced her carrier with a new one, then placed the carrier in her cat’s main living area and allowed her cat to check out the carrier. She also used happy tones to encourage her cat to use the carrier. As a result of following my advice, the client’s cat did learn to love its carrier.
The next video is from a student in my Socialization class. After making her cat’s carrier part of its home environment, she next made the carrier an inviting place by placing blankets and toys inside that belonged to her cat. She also began to feed her cat treats around its carrier every day. Once her cat began to regularly come up to the carrier to check it out, she put treats just inside the carrier, then partway into the carrier, and then all the way to the back. The cat in this video did eventually stop resisting being put into its carrier.
The third video is also from a student in my Socialization class. It shows her luring her cat into its carrier with treats, both from the top and from the side, each time allowing her cat to leave when it was done. Not shown in the video are the other steps she took, which were to close the carrier with her cat inside, move the carrier to different parts of the house with her cat inside, and take her cat for short car rides.
The fourth video is my own creation. It summarizes the initial steps I’ve listed in this article while also providing you with lots of kitten cuteness. The most important goal to keep in mind is that your cat must come to view its carrier as just as another safe place.
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Sometimes we all need a little (or a lot of) help with our cats. Whether you’re looking for support with cat behavior, training, socialization, enrichment, or husbandry care, I can help. Email me or fill out my contact form today.