Teaching cats to love their carriers

Visiting the vet clinic can be a very stressful experience for a cat, which in turn can be stressful for you as the owner – we all understand that nobody likes seeing their pet distressed.

It’s important to understand the natural behaviour of a cat, in order to understand exactly why coming to the vet clinic can be so scary – and it often all starts with the carrier!

Cats are very territorial creatures and very rarely ever leave their home, and when they do it usually means they are going to one of two places – the vet clinic or the cattery. So, this means any time a cat is put into its carry cage they assume they are going somewhere “bad” and travelling becomes stressful. Dogs however, leave home quite often – for walks, visits to the park or visits to friends’ houses – so travelling is not often perceived as a “bad experience”. To a cat, the carry cage therefore becomes a fear-inducing stimulus, putting the cat on edge in preparation for whatever is about to happen.

At the clinic, we often hear, “I had real trouble getting my cat into her carry cage, but now she doesn’t want to come out – I don’t understand it!”, or other words to that effect. So, we encourage you to practice habituating your cat or kitten to the carrier, as a step in making vet clinic visits and travel a little less scary. You should also practice taking your kitty for short rides in the car, which are not associated with a negative experience.

So how do you train your cat to love its carrier?

The concept of crate training is far from a new idea – it is said that free-roaming dogs seek shelter in small enclosed spaces and feral cats hide in small dark spaces to avoid being caught. In fact, if you’ve ever visited a person with cats, you’ll know that when unfamiliar people enter their home, many cats immediately run for cover in ‘hidey-hole’ safe places. Based on this, you can see how easily it should be to teach pet dogs and cats to perceive a travel carrier or crate as a cosy cave, or home away from home (and one that can be taken with them where ever they go!).

Training pets to see their carrier or crate as their personal bedroom is simple even for the feistiest of felines, and with some consistency and patience doesn’t usually take very long. It’s all about teaching them that great things happen when they’re in their crate – and the easiest ‘great thing’ to use is food. Following the simple steps below can train your housecat to think that their carrier is a haven!

If your cat really dislikes being in their carrier, start by feeding their daily meal just outside the door. When your cat is comfortably eating their meal in this new location, move the food bowl just inside the door so he or she has to stick their head just inside. Your cat should readily do this and when they are comfortable they will eat the meal without backing out to look around. You can now gradually move the food bowl further into the cage, until the cat easily goes all the way into the carrier. For most cats, getting to this point takes around 3-4 days.

Try hiding tasty treats or toys in the carrier for your cat to find throughout the day – this way they can explore the carrier and find nice rewards.

Your cat should always readily enter the carrier and walk out in a relaxed manner. If they look vigilant or rush out of the cage then you may need to back-track a little and work in more gradual steps.
How do you know when your cat loves their carrier? When they randomly enter and lie down to rest on their own!

Once your cat comfortably enters the carrier to rest, you can try closing the carrier door while they are eating and they can be kept in the carrier for short periods of time. Gradually work up to enclosing your cat in the carrier for longer sessions. Feel free to give us a call or pop in and see us for more advice.