5 Easy Tips to Help Your Cat Like Their Carrier!
For many cat parents, the hardest part of veterinary visits has nothing to do with the veterinary hospital at all - in fact, this particular challenge takes place before the vet visit even begins!
We hear time and time again from clients that getting their cats into the carrier is by far the most stressful component of taking their cat to the vet. Between the chasing, wrestling and forcing - it's a disaster that most cat parents dread.
Would you believe us if we told you it doesn't have to be this way?
Believe it or not, it's possible for your cat to be comfortable with their carrier! In this article we help you avoid cat carrier chaos by sharing five easy tips you can do at home to help your cat like their carrier!
5 Easy Tips to Help Your Cat Like Their Carrier
If your cat hates their carrier, these tips are for you!
TIP #1: Choose the Right Carrier
In order for your cat to feel comfortable in their carrier, it has to be the right carrier! Every cat is an individual with unique needs, so it's important to make your carrier selection based on the personality of your particular cat. We suggest keeping your receipts - sometimes trial and error is the key! Here are a few things to consider when choosing a carrier:
MATERIAL The distinguishing feature to consider here is soft-sided vs. hard-sided. Soft-sided carriers are typically made out of a firm cloth material with mesh sides, whereas hard-sided carriers are made out of plastic. Generally speaking we lean towards hard-sided carriers, as they provide the most stability and security for your cat. While soft-sided carriers may seem more 'cozy', the flexible sides can easily fold in on themselves, making for a cumbersome loading and transit process.
TYPE There are several different styles of carriers, with the most common styles being the standard small crate, the stroller, the wearable backpack and the rollable suitcase style. Although every cat is different, generally speaking for most cats we do not recommend the backpack or suitcase styles - especially for a vet visit. Both of these designs promote jostling and intense visual stimuli, both of which contribute to high stress levels. The ideal carrier for a veterinary visit is the typical rectangular crate-style carrier, small enough to be easily covered with a towel. For those who are unable to carry a crate, we recommend the cat stroller. Even though these are on wheels, the design minimizes jostling and their shape allows them to be easily covered to reduce stress.
ENTRY OPTIONS This is perhaps the most important carrier feature to consider. How your cat enters and exits their carrier will play a large role in how safe and comfortable they feel inside of it. We recommend always using a carrier that has a 'top-loading' option, meaning it has a door that opens from the top of the carrier vs. the side. Two different entry points is ideal (top and side), but if you can only have one, prioritize a top door. Why is a top-loading cat carrier ideal? Although it's always the goal to have your cat enter and exit the carrier on their own, sometimes it's necessary for the humans to assist, and a top-loading carrier provides the least stressful avenue for human-assisted entry/exit. The top door allows you to gently place your cat into the carrier for loading, as well as smoothly reach down into the carrier to lift them out for exit. Carriers that only have doors on the sides promote pushing, shoving and dragging during entry and exit.
TIP #2: Leave the Carrier Accessible to Your Cat As Much As Possible
Too often we make the mistake of leaving our cat's carrier tucked away out of sight until it's five minutes before we need to leave for a vet visit. In this scenario, your cat forms a negative association with the carrier as a result of only seeing it just before a stressful event takes place. This negative association promotes avoidance and fear which is why your cat runs and hides the moment they see their carrier.
So how do you get your cat to like the carrier? Make it an enjoyable part of their every day environment!
Ideally your cat's carrier will be left out and available to your cat all of the time, however if your home space does not allow for this, we recommend taking the carrier out at least one week prior to a scheduled veterinary visit.
Choosing the right location for the carrier is important. The carrier should be set up in a part of your home that your cat naturally prefers - a favorite room or hiding spot. Avoid placing the carrier in a spot that may feel threatening to your cat such as a high traffic area or right near a dog feeding area.
Once you've found the perfect location, set up the carrier to be a cozy safe space for your cat. It's important that your cat is able to enter and exit the carrier freely, so we recommend propping open the doors or removing them all together. Put a soft blanket inside the carrier with a couple of your cat's favorite items. Some cats enjoy having the carrier partially covered with a blanket or towel. Remember to avoid forcing your cat into the carrier throughout this process - allow them to explore the carrier at their own pace.
TIP #3: Promote a Positive Association With the Carrier
Once the carrier is set up in your home and ready for your cat to explore, we recommend assisting your cat in gradually building a positive association with it. The easiest way to do this is with food and play. Using your cat's most favorite 'high value' treat (or kibble if weight or diet is a concern), occasionally toss a couple pieces into the carrier for your cat to find and enjoy throughout the day. If you notice the treats are not being consumed, this may be a sign your cat isn't ready to actually enter the carrier yet. In this case, back up a step and toss the treats near the carrier, gradually closing the distance between the treats and carrier. Enjoying these yummy treats near and inside the carrier will help your cat to associate the carrier with good things.
For cats who prefer play over food, simply engage in their most favorite form of play near the carrier, and gradually work up to involving the carrier in the play sessions. For example, if your cat loves to chase mice, after a few times of playing chase next to the carrier, try placing the mouse toy on the carrier or tossing it inside of the carrier for your cat to retrieve. Another example is wand toy play - if your cat loves wand toy play, after engaging in a few wand play sessions near the carrier, gradually work up to involving the carrier. Start by moving the the wand closer and closer to the carrier and then eventually dangle the wand in or over the carrier so your cat ends up jumping in or on the carrier to get the wand toy. Having these care free play sessions near and involving the carrier will help your cat to associate the carrier with good things.
TIP #4: Teach Your Cat How to Get in the Carrier On Their Own
How you get your cat into their carrier when it comes time to actually leave the house will play a big role in how your cat feels about their carrier overall. It's ideal to create a load up routine where your cat enters the carrier on their own and is positively reinforced for doing so. If your cat is forced into the carrier after being chased and cornered, your cat will likely continue to avoid the carrier at all costs, no matter how often it's left out or how cozy it looks.
Whenever encouraging your cat to enter the carrier on their own, we recommend using your cat's favorite motivator - for most this will be a food item. We suggest using a 'high value' food item, meaning something your cat absolutely loves. Once your cat is successfully secured inside the carrier, be sure to offer plenty of yummy rewards to reinforce this behavior!
To read about a study that showed carrier training reduces stress in cats click here.
TIP #5: Cover and carry with care!
Cats are very sensitive to change and unfamiliarity, so actually traveling in the carrier is one of the most stressful components of carrier use for most cats. Minimizing the stress of travel is an important step in helping your cat feel comfortable with their carrier.
We recommend that you cover your cat's carrier with a light towel or blanket during transit. Many cats become overwhelmed by visual input, so reducing their visual stimuli during travel will help to keep them calm inside their carrier. It's ideal for the carrier cover to be sprayed with a calming product called Feliway, which mimics the natural happy pheromones cats leave behind in their environment.
To help your cat feel stable and secure during transit, it's important to avoid shaking or jostling the carrier while carrying it. We recommend holding the carrier from the sides with both hands, rather than letting it swing by the handle by your side. It is also very important to secure the carrier in the car to minimize movement - the less the carrier moves the happier your cat will be. Providing your cat traction inside the carrier is another great way to maximize their sense of security while traveling in the crate. A piece of a yoga mat placed in the bottom of the carrier is a great option for traction.