For many cat moms and dads, the hardest part about having a pet is not dealing with sickness or scratched up furniture, but convincing your cat to get in their carrier. Many attempts to take a cat to the vet or on a short car trip have be thwarted by a feline’s refusal to get in the carrier. It makes you wish that you could just put them in the back seat, strap on their seatbelt, and be on your way. Getting your cat in the carrier isn’t a lost cause, however. Here’s what you need to know to not only convince your cat to get in their carrier, but to like it too.
Why are cats so suspicious of carriers?
Put yourself in your cat’s shoes for a moment. You probably wouldn’t like it if someone suddenly grabbed you and stuffed you in a really small space, right? Well, cats feel the same way. They don’t like being placed into environments where they have no control and no means to enter and exit as they please. Some cats also simply dislike confined spaces–so a carrier is really a combination of unpleasant situations.
Even if your cat has been in the carrier a few times, it may be suspicious of what it represents. This object could symbolize events that the cat doesn’t enjoy like going to the vet or long car rides. This feeling is particularly true if the carrier is always hidden from the cat except when it’s time to go somewhere scary. Cats are smart and can make associations between objects and events. If the scary, tiny cage is making an appearance, they know that what comes next will probably not be any fun for them.
What type of carrier should I use?
Firstly, the carrier should in fact be an actual pet carrier. Don’t use tote bags, milk crates, boxes, etc. to transport your pet. There are a few different types of cat-specific carriers, and the best kind for you will depend on your cat’s personality. Here are the features you should keep in mind when choosing a carrier:
- Size – A carrier should be big enough to allow your cat to stand, lie down, and take few steps comfortably. It should also be able to fit treats, toys, blankets or anything else that the cat needs to stay calm.
- Material – Carriers are made either of hard plastic or soft fabrics. Hard carriers are heavier and larger than the softer variety. Newer cat owners sometimes find hard carriers easier to use since cats can stay in them during an appointment with a veterinarian.
- Configuration – Shy or nervous cats aren’t going to come in or out of a carrier easily. It’s important that any carrier you choose have multiple doors and can be quickly disassembled.
Getting your cat to love its carrier
The first step in making your cat less afraid is making the carrier seem normal. It shouldn’t only appear when it’s time to go to the vet. Here’s what you can do to make it feel like a safer space:
- Place it in an area of your home where the cat is free to explore
- Keep a favorite toy or blanket in the carrier
- Give the cat a treat whenever you find it resting in the carrier
As your cat begins to spend more time in the carrier, start closing the door for a few minutes at a time. Observe how your cat behaves to see if it becomes nervous or agitated. If your cat seems to be comfortable in a locked carrier, your next step is to start walking around with it and getting the cat used to being in the car while inside the carrier.
It’s important to remember that your behavior around the carrier is important, too. If you are calm and relaxed during these “practice” sessions, you should be the same when you’re actually using the carrier to take your cat somewhere.
What if my cat continues to be scared?
It’s possible that you’ve done everything you can and your cat runs away when it suspects that it has to go in the carrier. You can’t cancel every vet appointment, so here are a few actions you can try:
- Towel trick – This will seem a bit mean in the moment, but you can quickly wrap your cat in a towel or pillow case and place them in the carrier. Once in, take the towel away and close the door. If you try this method make sure that the carrier is open and ready for the cat before you start.
- Take advantage of curiosity – If your cat happens to wander into the carrier at any point before it’s time to leave, close and latch the door. The cat may be in the carrier a bit longer than normal, but this will save you the struggle of having to force the cat inside later.
- Take the top off of the carrier – This bit of advice is for a cat that refuses to come out during an exam. Just take off the top of the carrier, and allow the vet to examine the cat that way. Your cat may also feel safer by not actually having to leave the space.