Cats can be pretty anxious creatures, especially when it comes to small, enclosed spaces they didn’t volunteer to walk into by themselves. We don’t normally need to get them into small spots, so this isn’t usually much of an issue. But when it comes to carriers and cages, we don’t have much of a choice. We need to put cats into these in order to take them to vet appointments, in case there’s an emergency like a house fire and we need to evacuate, or on the off chance we’re moving from one house to another.
A stressed out cat is an unhappy cat, and unhappy cats make for very unhappy pet parents. Reducing cat anxiety around carriers is a huge step toward happier visits to the vet, and less panic if an emergency happens – for both cats and their owners.
But is it possible to get your cat used to being in his or her carrier or cage? And if so, how hard is it to pull off this kind of training?
I’m here to let you in on some pretty sweet news. #1: It’s possible to help even the most anxious kitties be a lot less anxious about carriers, and #2: It isn’t hard to pull off at all, you just need a little patience and time. Also – no, you do not need a special carrier to do any of this. Whatever you’ve already got at home will do the trick!
Picture from post Cats Can Like Cages
How To Get Your Cat Used to Being In a Carrier
Now, I’m not promising your cat will be particularly happy to be in a carrier, though it should be possible to eventually get your cat to that level with this sort of training. Within very little time, however, your cat is likely to at least be a lot less stressed out and much more at ease getting into and staying in a carrier with this sort of training. Again – it’s not complicated! Just takes time and repetition on your part. Now, let’s get into it.
Step 1: Line the bottom of the carrier with a blanket your cat likes to sleep in.
If your cat has a piece of your clothing (like a sweater or fleece) or any other fabric material he or she really likes to snuggle up in, that can be used instead of a blanket. But if your cat has no such object, buy a new blanket to gift to kitty or find one at home to “donate” to your cat, encouraging him or her to nap in it frequently so it becomes his or hers. The happy pheromones your cat releases onto the blanket will help him or her be more comfortable in the object’s presence, as it will smell and feel familiar and thus be a good object to have to make kitty feel like a little piece of home is coming with him or her even on trips in the carrier.
Need help getting your cat to adopt a blanket? Try laying the blanket down in a spot your cat already loves sleeping in, spraying it with catnip spray, sprinkling some loose catnip on top of it, and/or simply plopping your cat on top of it to see if he or she will take to it right away and start sniffing or kneading. Fleece and wool blankets are the best for this type of thing based on my experience. And blankets are a little better than clothing items to use because they’re a little easier to line the bottom of a carrier with.
Once your cat has has adopted the blanket and has slept in it a few times, line the bottom of the carrier with this blanket, folding it over as many times as you need to to make it fit perfectly into the space at the bottom of the carrier.
Step 2: Leave the carrier in one of your cat’s favourite spots with the door to the carrier open.
Your goal is essentially to have the carrier become the equivalent of a cat bed or cube for the time being. The best way to do this is to help your cat associate the carrier with things he or she already loves – favourite blankets and favourite spots are two of the easiest ways to get this done.
If you leave your cat’s blanket in the carrier, and after some time, your cat walks right into the carrier and takes a nap, job already well done. If not (which will be the case with most cats I’d suspect) – it’s time to take things up a notch and try the next few steps to encourage your cat to enter and take a rest in his or her carrier.
Step 3: Sprinkle fresh catnip on the blanket in the carrier and wait to see if your cat will go sleep there by him/herself.
Same bribes as before with creating a dedicated cat blanket: spray the blanket inside the carrier with catnip spray and/or sprinkle some loose catnip on top of the blanket in the carrier, then leave the carrier open (still in one of kitty’s favourite spots) to see if that does the trick luring kitty in.
Again, if your cat goes in and takes a rest, you’re already a huge step toward making your cat less anxious about his or her carrier. If not, your cat needs some extra coaxing, so be sure to use the next couple of steps to bribe kitty in.
Step 4: If you need to, lure your cat to stay by putting a treat or a few pieces of kibble into the carrier.
Did you feel this one coming? If your cat is one who’s easily bribed by food (as most, though not all, cats are!) begin to lure your cat into the carrier by placing a few treats or pieces of kibble into the carrier. Make sure your cat sees you do this, and you can even go so far as to have your cat sniff the treat in your hand first, before you place it into the carrier. Finally, when you put the kibble in, make sure it’s in a visible spot (near the middle or back of the carrier) and wait for your cat to go in.
You don’t need to pressure kitty to go in, though if you’d like to give an encouraging pat in the direction of the carrier, you can. It’s not necessary, however, and may make your kitty more antsy about the carrier than necessary. Just place the kibble inside and wait for your cat to go in and eat it. You can walk away and go do something else if it takes your cat a while to trust the carrier enough to go in and eat the kibble. Just remember that if this step takes quite a bit of time initially, that’s not at all an issue.
Step 5: Continue placing snacks into the carrier over and over until your cat is happy to go into the carrier by him/herself.
The reason why it’s no problem if your cat takes some time to go into the carrier and eat the treat you’ve left in the previous step: this process is going to be repeated over and over anyway.
The more frequently your cat goes into his or her carrier for treats, the less hesitation there will be and the more quickly he or she will be willing to go into it the next time. Repeat the treat-in-the-carrier process 5 or 6 times within the span of an hour, and your cat likely will have no trouble going in, eating the snack, and then rushing back out almost immediately upon seeing the food put down.
Do this over the span of a few hours or even days and your cat may decide this carrier is the bearer of good things and happy memories. You may find your cat begin to rest and nap in the carrier, which, as I said, is the end goal of this process.
Cat not taking a nap in his or her carrier or cage no matter what? That’s okay. Just getting your cat to be more comfortable going into the carrier is enough to have drastically reduced carrier anxiety from what it was at the start of this training process. Proceed to the next step anyway.
Step 6: Place kibble in the carrier and wait until your cat goes in, then quickly zip up or fasten the carrier behind him/her.
Don’t proceed to this step until kitty is immediately going into the carrier once you put down the cat food.
This step initially won’t be fun for kitty at all, especially not the first few times, but when you take your cat to the vet, you’re going to need to zip up or lock shut that carrier. Getting your cat used to that fact is a huge part of making sure he or she will be more comfortable with his or her carrier on vet day.
Lure your cat in with kibble, zip the carrier shut, wait a moment, and then open up the carrier and let kitty out. Repeat this process taking longer and longer to open the door each time, up to a few minutes.
After the first “locked in” trial, your cat is likely to lose trust in the carrier just a little bit. He or she may not be happy to go back into the cage immediately when you put down more food. But repeat the process of bribery with the door open, then bribery with zipping enough times, and your cat is much more likely to be okay with, or even indifferent to, being zipped inside.
The more time you find to practice with your cat, the less your cat will feel as though the carrier is a threat, and that being zipped inside of his or her enclosure is a recipe for disaster. Thus, the more relaxed your cat will be if/when you ever have to do it to take him or her to a vet or out of the house for any reason.
Bonus Step: Take your cat on short car rides, or short walks outside.
Most cats hate cars, but if you really think about it, why wouldn’t they considering how little experience they have being in them? If you’re successfully able to train your cat to be okay being zipped into a carrier, there’s no reason you can’t then train your cat to be happier taking car rides with the same training technique: repetition.
Slow and steady is the way. Don’t take long car rides with your cat. You may want to start off just going into the car. Then next time, going into the car and sitting with it turned on for a minute. Then a ride around the block, and finally a bit longer of a trip each time. Spoil your cat with congratulations, petting (if your cat enjoys petting), and snacks whenever you arrive back home. (Need a guide on getting cats comfortable in cars? One can now be found here).
The amount of times I had to move with Avery meant that by the end of the time we spent in Canada, he was perfectly used to being in a car. Did he like cars? No, but he was not miserable when he was in them as he was when we first adopted him.
In our last month or so in Canada, I had to personally walk Avery to the vet while carrying him in his carrier, versus being able to simply drive him to the vet as I used to do. The only way I could see him being comfortable with this process of being walked around with all the way to the vet’s (only a 15 minute walk, but could be very stressful for a cat!) – if he was already used to being walked around with.
Once you’ve zipped your cat into his or her carrier successfully, if you’d like to train your cat to be okay with being walked around with, go on very short walks with your kitty. The first time, you may only want to go just outside with your cat; simply sit on your front porch or a bench in your backyard for about 5 or 10 minutes, to get your cat used to outside from the perspective of a carrier at all.
The second time, a short walk around the block and back home should be enough. Each time, take your cat on a slightly longer walk, or a much longer walk depending on how your cat is reacting and if your cat is still very calm. When you bring your cat home and let him or her out, give him or her a treat to reward him or her for being good on the walk.
Over time, your cat should become very used to being walked around with in a carrier, thus dispelling the fear and anxiety a carrier has for most cats. You may not be able to completely get rid of all anxiety for every cat with this process, but your cat will certainly be much less anxious than when you started no matter what.
How Does Your Cat Feel About Carriers?
Does your cat personally fear carriers? Is he or she indifferent toward them or is it essentially horror when you pull the carrier out and war trying to get your kitty in?
Would you ever try to train your kitty to be less anxious about carriers by following any of the steps above? Have you ever done something like this in the past? How did it work out?
Leave a comment down below letting me know!