Vet Tips: 10 easy steps to get your cat to like — yes like — his cat carrier

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In honor of Adopt-A-Shelter-Cat Month, we’re giving you a step-by-step guide to make vet trips easier for everyone and ensure cats get the healthcare they need. This week we’re tackling the cat carrier. (Read our past vet tips posts here.)

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Sadie is a playful and active calico cat at Homeward Trails Animal Rescue, Inc. in Arlington, VA.

For cats, seeing the cat carrier is often the first sign that something bad is about to happen (i.e. a trip to the vet). So the first step to reducing the stress of vet visits (or travel in general) is to create positive carrier associations for your cat — a process which will take some time and patience, but can be well worth it.

Try these ten simple steps, then check out the bonus trouble-shooting tips from Banfield’s expert veterinarian below:

  1. Start young: Kittens usually adjust to new experiences and surroundings more easily than adult or senior cats, so start the carrier-training process as early as possible. But fear not — adult and senior cats can still learn that the carrier is a-okay (my 9-year-old cat Mojo certainly did!).
  2. Keep the carrier accessible: Too many cats only see the carrier when it’s time to go somewhere, so they begin to stress as soon as the carrier appears. Instead, keep your cat’s carrier on the floor and open at all times. Your cat should be free to come and go as he pleases so he doesn’t see the carrier as a place where he gets trapped.
  3. Make the carrier a nice place to be: Place some comfy bedding in the carrier and toss in a few treats, your cat’s favorite toys or some catnip when you first set it up. Check and replenish the supply every few days at random.
  4. Feed your cat inside the carrier: If your cat will eat his food inside the carrier, start putting his food dish inside the crate daily. If he won’t, try putting his food dish a few feet away and moving it an inch or two closer to the crate each day — just make sure your cat keeps eating. If he doesn’t, move the food a little further away and try moving it closer more slowly. TIP: Some extra smart cats won’t enter the crate with you standing nearby — they think you’ll lock them in — so try moving away and watching from across the room.
  5. Get your cat’s mind working by teaching an “in” command: Once your cat’s confident enough to go into the carrier to eat and get treats, start calling your cat over to the crate to get treats. Toss a treat in the carrier and when your cat goes in say “in.” Praise him for as long as he’s in the carrier. Once he comes out, toss in another treat and repeat.

    Over time, you can start saying “in” first and your cat should go into the carrier on his own — just be sure to treat him after he does and while he’s still in the carrier. Working with your cat around the carrier pairs all of your cat’s favorite things together — playing, learning, treats and you! — and shows him the carrier’s not only safe, but fun.

  6. Practice shutting and opening the carrier door: Keep up with steps 1-5, but now start closing the door and locking it before giving your cat the treat after the “in” command. Once he’s eaten the treat entirely, reopen the crate, let him come out and repeat. Practice this and gradually increase the amount of time the crate door stays shut. If your cat is calm while the door is shut, give him more treats. If he seems upset or tries to get out, do not treat and try again with less time in the crate.
  7. Practice picking up the carrier: After your cat learns that a shut carrier door is okay, try picking up the carrier with him in it and putting it back down gently. Add this to your training routine.
  8. Practice walking with the carrier: Once you’re able to pick up the carrier with your cat inside and remaining calm, try taking a couple steps and then gently putting the carrier back down, treating him and then letting him out.
  9. Practice going outside with the carrier: You don’t have to go far — just outside your front door and back inside could be far enough at first. The key is to make sure kitty remains calm while you repeat this — you can gradually increase your distance and time over time.
  10. Walk around the block: Keep practicing with kitty until you’re able to walk all the way around the block with him inside the carrier and remaining calm. Once you can do this you’ll know your cat’s fear of the carrier has been conquered.

For some cats, actually traveling in the carrier — or being closed in against his or her will — will always be a bit unnerving. Karen Johnson, DVM, of Banfield Pet Hospital in Portland, OR, gave us these great troubleshooting tips:
 

  • For cats who refuse to enter the carrier with you nearby, try tipping the carrier on its end and putting your cat in rear-end first.
  • Make sure your carrier is the right size for your cat and for the function you need it for. (For instance, cats flying in the cabin on an airplane will need a soft-sided carrier.)
  • Give your cat time, time and more time. Even if you set up the carrier, “it might be days or even weeks before the cat feels comfortable enough to explore it,” says Dr. Johnson. Don’t fret, let your cat take the time he needs.
  • It’s okay if the carrier’s not his favorite place. “While the cat may not like the carrier, he or she should learn that it’s a safe place,” says Dr. Johnson. By knowing the carrier is safe, your cat is less likely to have serious anxiety about being in the carrier — even if he never likes being inside it.

I’ve been practicing this routine for nearly three years now and my cat Mojo’s a different cat. Before, Mojo disappeared as soon as the carrier appeared. Now, she seeks out her carrier for naps, willingly climbing into and finding comfort in the small space.

Next time: Getting your cat to relax in the car.


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More tips for bringing your cat to the vet:

Petfinder Blog: Vet Tips: Five ways to keep your cat calm at the vet

The Catalyst Council: Tips for Taking Your Cat to the Veterinarian

USA Today: Pet Talk: Curb Your Cat’s Conniptions at the Vet

You might also like:

Article: Tips for a Healthy Cat

Article: How to Tell if a Cat or Dog May Need Veterinary Care

Article: Choosing a Vet

Video: Cat’s Health and Wellness

Video: Tips on Vet Visits and Cat Care

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