Tips to Crate Train a Cat
By Jane Harrell
The following is an excerpt from Petfinder.com’s FurKeeps Kickoff live Facebook Q&A.
I have a 5-year-old male Maine Coon who was dumped on my front porch four years ago. He has become an amazing cat, really sweet and cuddly. He comes when his name is called, sits, and waits patiently for his food or treats.
The problem is he is always peeing in my house. It doesn’t matter how many clean litter boxes I have, or whether or not they’re electric, he still pees in my house. I want to keep Rift because he’s stolen my heart, but I can’t handle the urinating all over my house. What can I do?
Answer from Jacque Schultz, MA CPDT-KA (ASPCA Community Initiatives - New York, NY):
Feline elimination problems are the No. 1 most common cat issue. It is estimated that one out of every 10 cats will have lapses at some point in his life.
So what can you do to try to change the situation, especially if he’s been having accidents for years?
First, get a vet check to make sure he is healthy. All the behavior help in the world cannot fix a problem that is medical in nature. Some cats have chronic issues, so if you treated something a few months ago, it doesn’t mean the cat isn’t sick again.
Second, if he gets a clean bill of health, I would use a two-week confinement program with him. Here’s how:
- Keep him in a cat crate, dog crate, or small powder room with no carpeting and nothing absorbent outside of his litter box and a bed. If he pees in the bed, he loses that as well for the two weeks.
- During that time, play with him, groom him, love him up, but if you are not directly engaged with him, he should be confined so he has no opportunity to go on anything upholstered or carpeted. You are building up a new habit, so I strongly recommend sticking to the two weeks and not cutting corners.
- If he’s happily urinating in the corners, outside of the box, then you might do what we did with one Persian: He was confined to a cattery cage that had two resting platforms, one with his food and water and the entire floor surface was covered by two or three different types of litter boxes with different choices of a substrate. He virtually had no choice but to use a litter box.
- After two weeks, he was let out of the cattery for an hour or two after he used the box. We slowly lengthened his time outside the cattery cage and knew we had accomplished what we set out to do when we observed him running into the cattery himself to use the box. (We had reduced the boxes to the one he used most by then.)
- Lastly, don’t forget while he’s in confinement to clean every inch of everywhere he has ever gone within an inch of its life using a good odor neutralizer as directed. You may need a black light to show you where urine deposits remain. If you don’t clean it all up, it is incentive for some cats to freshen up the spots with more urine. Good luck!
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 that will take some time and patience but can be well worth it.Try these ten simple steps, then check out the bonus troubleshooting tips from Banfield’s expert veterinarian below:
- 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!).
- 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 they please so they don’t see the carrier as a place where they get trapped.
- 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.
- Feed your cat inside the carrier: If your cat will eat their food inside the carrier, start putting their food dish inside the crate daily. If they won’t, try putting their 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 they don’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.
- Teach your cat the “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 your cat for as long as they’re in the carrier. Once they come out, toss in another treat and repeat. Over time, you can start saying “in” first and your cat should go into the carrier on their own — just be sure to treat them after they do and while they’re 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 show them the carrier’s not only safe but fun.
- Practice closing 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 they’ve eaten the treat entirely, reopen the crate, let them 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 them more treats. If they seem upset or try to get out, do not treat and try again with less time in the crate.
- Practice picking up the carrier: After your cat learns that a shut carrier door is okay, try picking up the carrier with them in it and putting it back down gently. Add this to your training routine.
- 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 of steps and then gently putting the carrier back down, treating them, and then letting them out.
- 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 the kitty remains calm while you repeat this — you can gradually increase your distance and time over time.
- Walk around the block: Keep practicing with kitty until you’re able to walk all the way around the block with them 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 they need.
- It’s okay if the carrier’s not their 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 they never like 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.