Cats seem to share a natural resistance when it comes to getting in a carrier, and who can blame them. If your kitty ends up at the vet every time they go in the carrier, they are going to develop a negative association between the two.
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As Cat Behavior Consultant Daniel Quagliozzi explains, "Cats are very sensitive to changes in their environment, particularly when those changes are beyond their control. Everything with cats is a negotiation, so desensitizing the carrier is essential, but it does take time and steps."
With that in mind, here are some helpful tips to make the carrier a cat-friendly place.
Don't wait until the last minute.
Be patient and calm when negotiating your cat into the carrier. It might be difficult for you, but it's scary for them.
Be prepared ahead of time.
Make sure the carrier is clean. If there has been an accident, it will smell bad. No one is going to want to go in a little box that smells like pee. If you store the carrier someplace out of the way, like a garage or an attic, bring it out a few days before you need to use it.
Keep it out all year long.
Have the carrier in the landscape of your cat's environment, so that they are not overwhelmed, scared or predictive of traveling or a potentially stressful event. This can be in the living room, bedroom, or wherever they spend a lot of time. Try placing their favorite bed inside to make it cozy. You can also put one of your sweatshirts inside as your scent is a source of comfort for your cat.
Bring on the treats!
Place some of your cat's favorite toys or treats inside the carrier to encourage them to explore inside on their own. Next, feed them high-value treats while they are inside the carrier. This will create a positive association with the carrier as they will equate it with their favorite treats.
Hopefully, these tips will help take the stress of getting your cat into a carrier and put a little love into this hate-hate relationship.
Need more detail on all things carriers? Here are step-by-step tips from Daniel Quagliozzi:
- Select a cat carrier that is comfortable or feels or looks like a bed. A carrier like a SleepyPod is a great balance of bed and mesh top carrier.
- If you have a conventional plastic or hard carrier, take the top off completely, so the bottom can be made more comfortable with bedding. Mesh or "duffle bag" style carriers can be zipped open for easy entry and exit.
- Cats are very sensitive to new or foreign smells. Use bedding that already smells familiar to the cat, so that familiarity to the carrier is easier to achieve.
- Spraying a calming pheromone like, Feliway will also help to increase a cat's sense of security to the carrier.
- Every day, place a few high-value items in the carrier, like favorite treats, a sprinkle of catnip or a cherished toy.
- Build up the daily positive associations and then place the lid back not hearer, with the door off or opened.
- Continue positive reinforcement offerings in the carrier and see how kitty adjusts to having the top back on.
- If kitty seems calm and cool in the carrier, experiment with closing the door, while they are inside.
- Next, try taking the cat in the carrier on a short trip (not the vet). Drive around a few miles and come home again.
- Give rewards before, during and after they return home.
- Extend the time you travel to longer trips and see how kitty adjusts.
- If you sense that your cat is stressed out by any of these steps, please reset and prolong the adjustment to allow your cat their very own, personal speed to acclimate.