In the case of cats, seeing the cat carrier is frequently the first sign that something bad is about to happen (i.e. a trip to the vet).
The first step in reducing your cat’s stress from vet visits (or travel in general) is to create positive associations. This is how it’s done:
- Begin as soon as possible: Because kittens adapt to new experiences and surroundings more easily than adult or senior cats, start the carrier-training process as soon as possible. (Don’t worry if your cat is older: Adult and senior cats can also learn to tolerate a carrier.)
- Make the carrier easily accessible: Because many cats only see the carrier when it’s time to leave, they become anxious as soon as it appears. Keep the carrier open and on the floor at all times so your cat can come and go as he pleases and does not associate the carrier with being trapped. Always keep patience in mind! Cats are notoriously slow to adapt to change, so it may take several weeks to a month for your cat to even notice the carrier is present.
- Make the carrier a comfortable place for your cat: When you first set it up, add some soft bedding and trethets, your cat’s favorite toys, or catnip. Restock the supply every few days.
- Feed your cat inside the carrier on a daily basis: If your cat eats inside the carrier, start feeding him there every day. If he refuses, move his food dish a few feet away from the carrier and move it an inch or two closer each day – just make sure your cat continues to eat. If he stops, move the meals a little further away, then closer. (Some extremely intelligent cats will not enter the carrier if you are standing nearby because they believe you will lock them in, so move away and keep an eye on them from across the room.)
- Teach your cat the “in” command: Once he’s comfortable eating in the carrier, call him over for a treat. When your cat enters the carrier, toss the treat into it and say “in.” Thank him for staying in the carrier for so long. When he comes out, toss in another treat and repeat. You can start saying “in” gradually at first, and your cat should be able to enter the carrier on his own if you reward him afterward and while he’s still in the carrier. All of your cat’s favorite things will be associated with the carrier, demonstrating to him that it is not only safe, but also enjoyable.
- Practice closing the carrier door: Follow the steps above again, but this time start closing and locking the door before giving your cat a treat. Open the door, let him out, and repeat after he’s finished the treat. Gradually increase the amount of time the door remains closed.) If he appears distressed or tries to escape, do not give him a delicacy and try again after a shorter period of time in the crate.
- Practice picking up the carrier: Once your cat has learned that a closed carrier door is acceptable, try picking up and gently lowering the carrier with him inside. Incorporate this into your workout routine.
- Walk with the carrier: After picking up the carrier while your cat is still calm inside, take a few steps and then gently place the carrier back down, reward him, and let him out.
- Experiment with taking the carrier outside: You don’t have to go far at first; just outside your front door and back inside may suffice. The key is to keep your con calm while doing this over and over, gradually increasing your distance and time.
- Walk around the block: Practice walking around the block with your cat calmly in the carrier. You’ll know your cat’s fear of the carrier is gone when you can do this.
Your cat may never enjoy being in his carrier, despite your best efforts, which is perfectly fine. “While the cat may dislike the carrier,” Dr. Johnson says, “he or she should learn that it is a safe place.”
I’ve been doing this routine with my cat Mojo for nearly three years, and it’s made a huge difference. She would disappear as soon as the carrier appeared. She now prefers to sleep in her carrier, climbing into and finding comfort in the small space.
Wondering about How to Keep Cats Out of Flower Beds and Gardens? Check it out on our latest post!