Does your cat run and hide as soon as she sees the carrier? Even worse, does your cat scratch and bite if you try to force her into the carrier?
Take a deep breath! There is a way to teach your cat to like the carrier.
Make the Carrier a Happy Place
First, put the carrier in a part of the house frequented by your cat, so your cat gets used to seeing it. If the only time your cat ever goes into the carrier is for a vet visit, he’ll likely hate the carrier.
Next, make the carrier a happy place. Leave the door open and place one of your cat’s favorite blankets inside. If your cat is food-motivated, place a trail of treats near the carrier or throw treats towards the carrier to encourage your cat to get close to it. Alternatively, if your cat is play-motivated, try playing with your cat near the carrier or throwing toys towards the carrier.
If your cat still avoids the carrier, you may need to make it less scary. Ways to do this include:
- staying out of the room while your cat explores the carrier,
- temporarily removing the gate and/or the top from the carrier,
- using a box as a short-term substitute,
- or purchasing a new carrier.
Reward and Repeat
After your cat is going inside the carrier on her own, whether for treats or toys, close the door and immediately open it again before your cat has time to react. Then give her a big reward: treats or playtime or praise. Repeat this step often for a few days, each time slightly increasing the length of time the door is closed.
When your cat is comfortable being in the carrier with the door closed, the next step is to pick up the carrier, then set it back immediately, and then open the door. Follow with rewards, and repeat as often as needed, each time increasing the length of time you lift the carrier off the floor.
Be sure you’re always putting the carrier down and opening its door before your cat starts to feel uncomfortable. You always want to end on a positive.
When your cat is comfortable being lifted in the carrier for any length of time, walk around with your pet inside it! Start by moving the carrier a short distance within the same room, then the next room. How quickly you move from room to room will depend on your cat. Always increase the distance as slowly or as quickly as your cat can handle.
By slowly reintroducing your cat to his carrier, you’re helping make the carrier feel like less of a threat. This is critical. If at any point your cat believes the carrier is a trap, he’ll likely revert to his original habit of running away from his carrier.
Never move on to the next step until your cat is completely comfortable with what he’s been doing. If your cat is uncomfortable with something, revert to the last thing he was comfortable with.
Just a Few More Steps
At this point, there are just a few steps left, all of which should be done by starting small and then by increasing the duration and distance. These steps are:
- take your cat outside,
- take your cat to the car,
- put your cat in the car,
- go for a short drive, and go for fun outings. (For the steps involving your car, you might play soft music and spray the carrier/car with cat pheromones.)
When your cat enjoys going places in the carrier, be sure you don’t go back to keeping the carrier in storage except when taking your cat to the vet. Keep the carrier out, and continue taking your cat on fun outings.
What if that’s not possible? Then just do what you can. When I bring my former feral home from the vet, I put her carrier on our deck so that she can have time in the sun.
Whether you struggle to take your cat to the vet, want to be able to easily get your cat into her carrier in case of an emergency, or hope to travel with your cat, carrier training is essential. If you need additional help, you might talk with your vet about antianxiety medication and/or hire me to give you personal support via Zoom.
About the Author
Allison Hunter-Frederick is a Cat Behavior Consultant, Trainer, and Educator. She is also the mother of three fur kids and several revolving foster cats, host mom to international students, and wife of a supportive husband. Through her business Allison Helps Cats LLC, she uses her knowledge of cats to help cat owners and animal shelters with their cat behavior needs. Two of her cats enjoy their carriers; her former feral is a work in progress.