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Cat Care Resources

Acclimating Your Cat to a Carrier

Prior to the day of your pet’s appointment, it is best to acclimate your cat to its carrier. If your cat isn’t used to a carrier, introducing one the morning of the appointment may cause your cat to become frightened and either fight going into the carrier or hide from you. Even if you are able to get your unacclimated cat into the carrier, it will be an unpleasant experience at best. Avoid the anxiety of a last-minute scuffle with your feline friend and a missed veterinary appointment by acclimating your cat to its carrier.

  • When purchasing a carrier, choose one that loads from the top or comes apart in the middle so that your veterinarian can take the top off and begin their examination with the cat sitting comfortably in the bottom portion of the carrier. 

  • Keep training sessions short. A couple of minutes per day is enough. Training your cat to voluntarily enter the carrier will not happen in one day. These instructions are meant to be implemented over several days, weeks, or even months depending on the cat. 

  • Kittens may acclimate sooner than adult cats as kittens often see carriers as just another fun hiding place, or play area, as opposed to a confined space that is only used for transportation. Young kittens are extremely curious, and will happily enter the carrier, which will help them to acclimate to the carrier much faster than older cats.

  • Reward your cat at each step of the training. Each cat is an individual and may value different rewards. Try some of the following:  favorite toys, tasty treats, catnip, petting/brushing.

  • Throughout the training, do not isolate your cat while they are in the carrier. Keep the carrier near you.

  • If at any point your cat becomes nervous, go back a step and give treats until your cat is more comfortable. 

  1. Start by leaving the carrier out and open. Place the carrier in your cat’s favorite room, perhaps a sunny location, with a soft piece of bedding to encourage exploration and voluntary use. This step may take some time as cats are suspicious of new things. If you have the space, leave the carrier out all the time.

  2. If you had to start by removing the top of the carrier, your next step would be to affix the top of the carrier to the bottom of the carrier and reward your cat for exploring it. 

  3. Once your cat is routinely entering the carrier on their own, add the door and reward your cat for exploring the completed carrier. When your cat is routinely entering the carrier after the door is on, you can then move the door from open to closed and reward your cat. Do not lock the door at this time. You are getting your cat used to the door closing but do not want them to feel trapped.

  4. With your cat in the carrier, close the door (do not lock it). Close, open, and reward. As your cat gets accustomed to the door movements, leave the door closed for increasing amounts of time while rewarding.

  5. Once your cat is comfortable staying in the carrier with the door closed, you can lock the door and treat. As your cat gets accustomed to the door being locked, leave the door locked for increasing amounts of time while treating..

  6. Once your cat is comfortable staying in the carrier with the door locked, lift the carrier, put it down, and reward. Again, increase the time, and start adding walking a few steps while carrying it.

  7. Once your cat is comfortable with you carrying them several steps, place the carrier in the car and reward. As with the other steps, increase the time spent in the car, and then work up to short car rides.  

By following these steps, use of a carrier will become routine for your cat, and he/she will be much more comfortable with trips to the veterinary clinic and traveling in general. Some cats however, despite your best efforts, will remain afraid of confinement or travel. In these cases, your veterinarian may consider prescribing additional anti-anxiety medications to help alleviate stress. The ultimate goal should always be keeping the experience as peaceful and pleasant as possible for everyone involved, including yourself and the veterinary staff.  

If your cat isn’t exploring the carrier, try the following: 

  • Remove the door.

  • Remove the top of the carrier and have your cat explore only the bottom half.

Try the following to get your cat to spend more time in the carrier:

  • Place treats, food, or catnip inside the carrier.

  • Place a small bed or towel inside the carrier.

  • Covering the carrier with a blanket or towel while in the car can make your cat feel safer while traveling. 

  • If your cat is still a bit unsure of car rides, you can try a product called FeliwayFeliway is a feline-appeasing pheromone product that produces a calming effect in cats. This pheromone can be found in many forms including sprays and towelettes. Prior to your car trip, prepare the carrier by spraying with Feliway spray or wiping it down with Feliway wipes, and allow it to sit for 10 minutes before introducing your cat. 

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