Okay, so your cat despises being confined to their carrier. But, before you dismiss your cat as obstinate, consider this: you only take the carrier out of storage when you’re going to the vet’s office.
And it’s likely that those trips aren’t for regular wellness care (such as yearly check-ups), but rather for when they’re feeling “odd” or ill.
It’s difficult to picture any of us wanting to get into our vehicles if every time we did, we had to go to the dentist!
So it’s no surprise that cats despise their carrier, and that your “carrier dance” typically entails a fight in which your cat is “put” backwards in the carrier, and you end up with scratches on both arms. Does this ring a bell?
How to Calm a Cat in a Carrier
Before you go to the vet, follow these steps to get your cat used to their carrier.
Fortunately, there are a few easy measures you can do to make it a less stressful experience for both of you.
- Make the carrier a part of their surroundings – Rather than hiding it in the basement or garage, have their carrier out in the open all of the time. This may be in the living room, a restroom, next to where they sleep, or wherever else they spend a significant amount of time
- It’s not a good idea to place it near their food or litter box at first (see next point below for why). Once they’ve become accustomed to the carrier, you may try it out in various parts of the house. There are also a variety of entertaining methods to integrate a carrier into your surroundings.
- If you don’t keep their carrier out all of the time, put it out a few days before their planned veterinarian appointment – this will give them time to become used to it and “calm down.” Put it away from where they eat and/or go to the toilet, as its unexpected appearance in these critical areas may stress them out and cause them to skip meals or pee or defecate outside of their litter boxes.
- Assist them in forming good relationships with their carrier.
To assist minimize and avoid stress, spray a few pumps of Feliway soothing pheromone on a towel or mat and put it in the carrier each day. When it comes to pheromones, a little goes a long way!
(Tip: spritz the towel out of the carrier and then wave it about to let the alcohol “carrier” disperse (preferably 15–30 minutes before your cat gets into the crate), as this may help avoid irritation of your cat’s nasal passages.)
You may also regularly put a little catnip in their carrier or spray a little catnip oil (diluted) on their carrier towel/blanket. Feeding them snacks and stroking or grooming/brushing them while they’re in their carrier may also help them establish positive connections. (A carrier with a top opening may be simpler for this, and such carriers are typically easier to get cats in and out of when they go to the doctor.)
• Have fun with them inside and outside the carrier! In their carrier, put some of kitty’s favorite toys. Do they like pursuing a laser pointer or a toy that resembles a feather dancer? If that’s the case, take those games with you and play them in the carrier.
After each vet visit, wash your cat’s carrier to reduce stress.
It’s usually a good idea to wash your cat’s carrier after you take them to the veterinarian. This will assist to remove the odors of the vet’s office (as well as any pee that may have “happen” on the way there or back) out of the carrier and off the padding or blankets within. Those “smell memories” alone may cause tension in your cat, making it more difficult to get them into the carrier in the future. Here are some cleaning products suggested by veterinarians.
Your Cat Should Be Crate Trained
I’m sure you’ve heard of crate training a dog. Did you know that a cat can be carrier trained? It’s real, and it’s based on the same principles as the procedure in dogs. Patience and consistency are essential, as are a calm, relaxing atmosphere and rewards that your cat likes. Here’s a video that walks you through the stages of cat carrier training. It’s SO gratifying when your cat feels at ease in their carrier, and it will make life so much simpler (and safer) for you both.
The CATalyst Council has created a very educational video that walks you through the procedures you should follow to ensure your cat has the best possible crate experience. You may either watch the whole video or jump to the time stamp for each stage.
- Step 1: Selecting a suitable carrier for you and your cat (1m 17s)
- Step 2: Picking the best spot in your house (2m 29s)
- Step 3: Creating a cat-friendly carrier (3m 36s)
- Step 4: Getting your cat accustomed to going to the vet in the vehicle (7m 30s). Make a point of getting your cat in their carrier, loading them into the vehicle (don’t forget to fasten their carrier for safety – theirs and yours! ), and taking them for a short drive once a week, or as frequently as you can.
It doesn’t have to be to your veterinarian’s office, or even to “anywhere.” Simply drive for longer and longer lengths of time. Then go home and spend some time with them, either playing or cuddling.
1. acclimate your cat to her carrier
Have you ever prepared for a trip to the veterinarian only to discover the catflap flapping in the wind as your pet flees? This isn’t a newly discovered feline psychic ability: According to Inga MacKellar, an APBC animal behaviorist, “it’s really the sight of the cat carrier that strikes her alarm bells.” ‘Your cat has learned to connect the carrier with the frightening experience of being packed into it and then transported in a loud bus or vehicle. Because cats seldom go outside of their home area, any journey away from their usual surroundings may be very upsetting for them, necessitating extreme caution.’
Keep her carrier out permanently, or leave it out for several days before the vet appointment, to significantly minimize the stress element for you and your cat. You may use clicker training to help your cat go into her carrier, or you can place her favorite blanket in it so she loves going inside and resting on it.
‘Scent is extremely essential to cats, and if she can smell her own pheromones on the bedding, she will be more happy to get in the carrier and settle down,’ explains Inga. ‘If that’s not an option, spritz a synthetic pheromone spray in the carrier at least half an hour before usage.’
‘It’s also critical to keep the carrier covered at all times with a blanket or towel. Keep her hidden because a worried and scared cat wants to hide in the shadows and not feel exposed to the world.’
2. Spend as little time as possible in the waiting area.
The scents and noises of the waiting area may make your cat feel anxious, which may make you feel worried as well – something your cat is sure to pick up on, increasing her anxiety even more. ‘Keep your cat outside in the vehicle until you’re ready to be called into your appointment to reduce the amount of time you spend in the waiting area,’ Inga suggests. ‘ If your clinic has the time and is willing to assist, it’s a good idea to speak with the receptionists and ask them to call you when your pet’s turn comes up.
‘Some veterinarian practices have particularly calm, cat-friendly waiting rooms, so check to see if one is available near you.’ If you must be in the main waiting area, keep your cat’s carrier covered and on your lap so that no other animals come sniffing around and possibly disturb her,’ advises Inga. And don’t worry about being nice just for the sake of being polite. ‘Keep anybody who wants to look in and say hello to your pet a safe distance away.’ ‘The less interruptions she has, the better,’ Inga adds.
Some cats need comfort in their owner’s voice and touch, so petting her and chatting to her through the carrier may help. However, no matter how pathetic her meows are, never open the carrier because she may make a break for freedom.
3. Bring a tasty goodie with you.
Your cat may refuse to come out of the carrier after you’ve arrived at the vet’s office, biting or scratching you if you try to coax her out. ‘Your vet should be able to gently handle anxious animals, but make sure you choose one who is strong in both these abilities and medical expertise,’ says Inga. She also suggests purchasing a top-opening cat carrier, ideally with optional side opening flaps. ‘She’ll be calmer and less likely to attempt to protect herself with her claws or fangs if she’s hoisted out from the top, rather than dragged unwillingly out of a more conventional tunnel-shaped carrier,’ explains Inga. ‘Ideally, you should pull her out of the top personally and speak to her and touch her while doing so.’
‘If your cat is very anxious, the vet may need to wrap her in a towel so she doesn’t scratch or bite while being checked.’ Give her a special reward when the vet has done checking her over, such as a piece of chicken. This will assist her in forming a good connection with the veterinarian’s office. If she tucks in, that’s a positive indication, since a stressed cat won’t be enticed by food.
‘Then return her to the carrier, cover it again, and pay your charge as soon as possible.’ You may even ask your veterinarian if you can take your pet home and return later to settle up and pick up any medicines.