4 steps for how to get a cat in a carrier with less stress.
If there's one thing a cat owner dreads, it's getting their beloved pet into its carrier. Some felines dart under a heavy piece of furniture as soon as they catch a glimpse of their carrier. Others might have an easier time getting into the carrier—but then vocally express their hatred all the way to their destination. Either way, it can be an unpleasant experience for all parties, and forcing a cat into a carrier only creates more stress and increases the cat's negative associations.
Of course, it's easier to train a kitten to like its carrier, but adult cat owners shouldn't despair. With plenty of practice, gentle persistence, and positive reinforcement, getting a cat in a carrier becomes second nature.
Step 1: Find the right carrier style.
Because cat transport is clearly a challenge for many cat owners, there are a plethora of carrier styles to choose from. There are soft and hard ones, and even ones made from cardboard. There are cat carrier backpacks and bags, ones with handles, shoulder straps, or wheels (or ones that combine all of the above). The list goes on!
Fear Free vets generally recommend finding a carrier that's big enough for the cat to lie down or turn around, while still providing a snug and secure space. Also, top-loading cat carrier—even better if it has a second side-opening—can make removing a cat from the carrier, such as for the vet appointment, smoother.
Whatever style you decide to use, the cat carrier should be held and moved steadily and evenly. Holding it from a handle can make it swing too much!
Step 2: Foster familiarity between your cat and their carrier.
Leaving a cat carrier tucked away in the closet for most of the year isn't going to help your cat get used to it. So, what if we just...left our cat carriers out?
It doesn't need to be placed on your coffee table for all your guests to see, but placing the cat carrier in a place where your cat can sniff around or even go inside of the carrier helps them feel a little more at ease in its presence. With time, they might even view it as a cozy napping spot.
Step 3: Train your cat to see their carrier as a safe space.
For extra travel-wary cats, it's important to reassure them that their carrier is a safe place. To encourage a more positive association, you might try feeding your cat or giving them treats in the vicinity of their carrier. Over time, you can gradually get closer to the carrier until you're feeding them from inside the carrier.
If they refuse to even go near the carrier, you could try out a Fear Free-style treat ladder, where the closer your cat gets to the carrier the better the treats get. Start with a familiar, crunchy snack and end with something seriously special, like a spoonful of wet food or bonito flakes. With plenty of treats and praise, some pet parents have trained their felines to sit in their carrier on command.
Step 4: Start with shorter trips.
Ideally, the first time you put your cat in its carrier shouldn't be the same day as your appointment. Your feline friend should be familiar or at least somewhat acquainted with their carrier well ahead of time. Start with taking your cat in its carrier for a walk around the house. If they seem somewhat relaxed, try a walk or a drive around the block. As their comfort levels increase, so can the length of your practice excursions.
By the time your appointment rolls around, your cat and you will feel carrier confident.
Here are a few bonus cat carrier tips.
- Make your cat's carrier the coziest spot with a soft blanket and their favorite catnip toys
- Consider spraying the carrier bedding with a calming pheromone, such as Feliway
- Some cats get overwhelmed from visual stimulation—consider covering their carrier with a blanket to block their view and create a sense of safety during car travel
Mastering cat transport is only one small piece of cat ownership, but it's an important one! Knowing how to easily get a cat in a carrier can save you time and stress, particularly if you're on the way to a vet appointment, in the process of moving, or if there's an emergency and you need to move your feline friend quickly.
Another important piece of cat ownership is finding the right vet who prioritizes your cat's physical and emotional wellbeing. We'd love to meet your cat and you at our beautiful, Fear Free Certified clinic.
The information in this blog is reviewed and approved by the Fear Free Certified veterinarians at Papaya Pet Care.