It’s all about the carrier and how your cat feels about it!
We all know how stressful it is to take your cat to the vets or the cattery: stressful for you and stressful for them …. but there is help here to make it less so for both of you!
Making visits better begins with having the right type of cat carrier – even if that means changing the current one if it is hated or feared. With time and a little patience, you can help your cat to like a new carrier. Doing this will make a real difference to how vet visits feel for your cat.
What should you look for when buying a cat carrier?
- The carrier should easily split open into two halves and be held together by sturdy catches. This allows the vet or nurse to remove the top half for the examination, while your cat stays in the bottom half on a reassuringly familiar bed. This is much less stressful than being removed from the carrier and placed on the examination table.
- There should be two doors: a top- and a front-opening door, both with secure fastenings to prevent escape. The doors shouldn’t be solid, so that the cat can see out (if they choose) and you can see in, feed treats through the bars or stroke your cat. Having two doors allows your cat a choice of how to enter or exit the cat carrier – and cats need choices! A top-opening door makes it easier if your cat needs to be placed in or removed from the carrier, whether reluctant to do so themselves or because of illness or injury.
- Look for a sturdy plastic construction that is easy to clean, of sufficient size for your cat to lie comfortably, with slats in the upper half for ventilation and a view but a solid lower half to offer feline concealment. Your car and the practice waiting room can be worrying places for your cat, so being able to hide and not be on view to strangers is important. Don’t worry if your cat does not want to look outside as the carrier can be covered by a blanket or towel to help your cat feel more secure. Spray these and the corners of the basket with Feliway at least 15 minutes before use for added stress-reduction.
Why do cats dislike their carriers?
Once a cat has formed a negative association with the carrier, it’s hard to change it. Causes include:
- A previous battle to put them in or take them out: one bad experience is enough to make them run and hide when the carrier appears from the cupboard or shed that it’s probably hidden away in.
- The carrier is too small: it should be large enough for the cat to sit up, lie down, stand up and turn round in.
- It is only used to make journeys to the vets or the cattery: most cats only experience the sounds and smells of a car when they are going to the vets or a cattery – but it may not even be just the destination that your cat associates the carrier with, but the journey itself. Cats can experience motion sickness just like we can.
- The carrier is shared: If the carrier smells of another cat, because you’ve borrowed your neighbour’s carrier, or if you have more than one cat but one carrier, the carrier may smell of a cat yours isn’t truly friendly with, even if they live in the same house. Your cat can’t escape from the smell of the other cat while confined in the carrier and it isn’t just the smell of the cat that yours may be noticing. A previously stressed cat will leave pheromones, chemical messages that your cat can detect and which alert them to the fear of something bad ahead. For these reasons, you should carry cats in separate carriers and keep one for each cat.
How do I get my cat to like the cat carrier?
Here’s five top tips to help them feel happy instead of horrified:
- Don’t bring your cat carrier out only when it’s required for visits: instead, leave it out so that it becomes a familiar part of the home and just another piece of furniture in your cat’s world. Place it in a quiet area so that your cat can rest there undisturbed, away from noise and passing feet.
- Place familiar-smelling and comfy bedding inside: leave the upper half of the carrier off if it is removable – and the door off too, initially. Your cat may choose to lie in the bottom half without you needing to entice them and they are much more likely to do so with bedding that has their scent on.
- Use Feliway Classic spray on the bedding and around the door, always allowing a minimum 15 minutes before introducing your cat to the carrier. Feliway helps your cat to feel safe and relaxed, being a synthetic version of naturally produced pheromones. When cats rub their faces on us and our homes, they are placing these pheromones around their environment to create security and familiarity.
- Take time to train your cat to go to this bed: your cat must be relaxed at all times and do this by choice. If they don’t go into the carrier base on their own, you can either:
- First train them to go on the bedding (choose a safe and cosy spot) without the carrier, using food rewards when they go to the bed and say the word “good” before giving the treat. Then gradually move the bed closer to the carrier and eventually into its base, till they choose to spend time relaxing there or:
- Use food to encourage your cat onto the bed within the carrier base or use a wand toy to entice them there. You can feed your cat inside the carrier or place a favourite toy inside to help build positive associations.
No one wants their cats to be stressed when they go to the vets or the cattery. Getting them to be comfortable in their carrier is a big part of making these trips as successful and unstressful as they can possibly be.
Imagine if the carrier is part of everyday life and a place your cat is comfortable with and you, no longer trying to retrieve your cat when the carrier appears or fighting to get your cat in… happy cats and happy owners
For more information on cat carrier training, cleaning and how to get your cat into a carrier, visit Choosing & using | Cat carrier training | Cats Protection